End The HIV ‘Crisis’ in Lewisham

End the HIV Crisis in Lewisham this World AIDS Day’s theme is end inequalities, end pandemics and end the corrosive stigma

This World AIDS Day theme is ‘End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.’ Many who have supported their friends, lovers, family members and colleagues living with HIV have experienced and challenged the corrosive stigma that still exists against people living with HIV. This year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported. Since that time, where investments have met ambition, there has been huge progress, particularly in expanding access to treatment. By June 2021, 28.2 million people had access to HIV treatment, up from 7.8 million in 2010, although progress has slowed considerably according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). 

World AIDS Day message from the United Nations on colliding pandemics

“The red light is flashing. Progress against AIDS, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the COVID-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programmes and more. And make no mistake: AIDS remains a pandemic. To stop it we urgently need a bolder view of pandemic response that is capable of tackling the inequalities prolonging the AIDS pandemic. Many of these missing pieces to fight HIV are also allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to continue and leaving us dangerously unprepared for pandemics of the future,” says Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director.

In the UK the National AIDS Trust has said that we are at a crucial point in the fight against HIV.

It is now scientifically possible to end new cases of HIV by 2030. In January 2019, the UK government promised that it would meet this goal. The HIV Commission’s report has now provided a route map. After months of delay, the government is starting to draft its HIV action plan. NAT says: “We cannot afford to delay this any more.”

“Any HIV Action Plan is worthy of its name must genuinely start the process of ending new cases of HIV and support people to live well with HIV and AIDS.”

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has a project which operates across Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. This focuses on increasing HIV testing, and re-engaging with people who have stopped HIV treatment. It has helped provide additional HIV testing in University Hospital Lewisham A&E department, primary care settings, and in community organisations, as well as recall of those who are no longer in treatment. Some 115 Lewisham residents living with HIV have received treatment and care since the project started in November 2018.

I has campaigned with the NAT and local HIV organisations like Metro for many years. Earlier this year, I wrote to Matt Hancock who was then, Secretary of State for Health, about the need for action.

Letter-to-Matt-Hancock-HIV-AIDS-2021-AH-headed

During the 1990s Lewisham did not have a specialist hospital based sexual health clinic. Following a successful campaign led by the voluntary sector, the local Community Health Council and LGBTQi+ groups a new clinic was opened at University Hospital Lewisham. The Alexis Clinic is much in demand as Lewisham’s centre for treating outpatients and inpatients with HIV in a confidential, comprehensive and patient-centred manner.


The Alexis Clinic provides a wide range of services for adults aged 16 and there are 850 registered patients. More than 50 per cent of them are heterosexual and most are of African origin. Many live on the poverty line and struggle with mental health problems. The Alexis Clinic say that the biggest challenge facing its clinical team is the issue of stigma.

Rates of HIV in Lewisham are amongst the highest in the country – figures from PHE accessed 290721

The rates of HIV infection in Lewisham need to be seen in the context that the UK maintains the largest HIV epidemic in western Europe. Lewisham as a London borough has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country, with 1,693 diagnosed.

Recently published research in Ireland around stigma and HIV, in the well respected National AIDS Manual, concluded that despite improved access to HIV treatment and prevention, the Irish HIV epidemic remains a significant public health concern, with annual increases in the number of infections. In 2019 the number of new diagnoses of 11 per 100,000 was much higher than the European average of 6.2. The rise in HIV infections coincided with significant health funding cuts since 2008. People living with HIV continue to feel stigmatised and this impacts upon health in varied ways, such as not seeking out healthcare services.

Perhaps, there needs to be some research into how the public discourse around HIV and the media coverage of it is having an impact on HIV treatment, care and prevention in the UK?

HIV and AIDS non governmental organisations promote the positive advances in medicine – and these are real and beneficial. However, there is still a question of whether we are reaching those who need support. As the researchers in Ireland put it: “Whose ‘health’ counts in a politics ‘that produce conditions of systematic negligence’, which disproportionately affect individuals with less access to power?”

To redress the balance, then access to advocacy and support service for individuals with HIV – and other conditions – needs to be prioritised.

This is one of the many reasons that Lewisham needs an independent disability advocacy service. Since the Lewisham Association of People with Disabilities closed its doors in Bellingham in December 2018 there is no organisation to advocate and represent those with disabilities in Lewisham and the small budget of around £50,000 remains unspent. Politics is about priorities and this must be one of them – without delay.

In advance of World AIDS Day on the 1st December 2021, I tabled a formal question at Lewisham Council. The latest statistics available and the text of the reply

Cllr Alan Hall’s formal Question tabled at Lewisham Council meeting 24th November 2021

Taking up the need to address the “Crisis in HIV and AIDS in the UK, London and Lewisham” and pointing out that Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham all have high rates of HIV and AIDS, in fact among the highest in Europe, I urged Lewisham Council to do more work and to address the issue of racism that I raised on the floor of the Council Chamber last year 2020.

Cllr Chris Best, cabinet member for Adult Services said: “I am not proud of the statistics at all” and she agreed there was more that needed to be done.

The full exchange between can be viewed here

Cllr Alan Hall moves a motion about HIV and AIDS services – Lewisham Council November 2017

A report on transforming sexual and reproductive health for BAME communities in Lambeth Southwark and Lewisham published on 3rd November 2020 says:

“Mainstream services must look at the way racial and HIV discrimination intersects when caring for BAME service users, so they can provide efficient care for individuals who may be coping with social isolation, stigma from the community as well as racial discrimination: something that is not necessarily relevant to the rest of the HIV positive community.”

I have joined campaigners calling for more government action to end new cases of HIV in the UK by 2030. I say:

“There is a failure to act to end HIV. To end the prejudice, to end the stigma. In the Budget – earlier this year – the failure to allocate resources means that action is needed more urgently, if we are to put the country on course to end transmissions by the end of the decade. History will look kindly on those who show real leadership and financial commitment now. We need to fund the fight and take the decision to end new cases of HIV by 2030. We need real action now to end the colliding pandemics.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS said: “Ending inequalities to end AIDS is a political choice that requires bold policy reforms and requires money. We have reached a fork in the road. The choice for leaders to make is between bold action and half-measures.”

UN urges action to end HIV

Cllr Alan Hall was a trustee of the London Lighthouse, the pioneering HIV and AIDS hospice and centre in London.

Bromley Council and HIV – The Fight For Social Services

The late 1980s and the early 1990s was a time when the HIV and AIDS pandemic was in the news and high on the political agenda.

Professor Virginia Berridge, Director of the Centre for History in Public Health and author of AIDS in the UK, gives us this accurate and succinct historical context:

An expert advisory group on AIDS (EAGA) had been set up in 1985 in the Department of Health with input from clinicians and scientists involved. The Chief Medical Officer, the main public health government official, Sir Donald Acheson, led the group. Despite the level of expertise, the committee faced many problems. They included the attitude of sections of the press, which called for a punitive response to HIV/AIDS. An initial lack of political interest and the danger that, if political interest were awakened, the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might take a punitive stance. Issues such as segregation and quarantine were freely talked about.

In 1986, a sense of national emergency materialised, and developed high-level political interest on the subject. A Cabinet committee on AIDS was set up, a major health education campaign was initiated, funds were released for research, and the main health education body, the Health Education Council, was reformed as the Health Education Authority. Despite this progress, there were still powerful calls for a punitive approach, such as when the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, James Anderton, spoke of people ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making’. However, the general tenor of the government response was pragmatic – focussing on safe sex rather than no sex, and safer drug use rather than no drug use. This liberal response was influential at the international level too and was promoted through AIDS specific organisations set up as part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN).

Source https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Epidemiology_of_HIV/AIDS

In South East London, the local HIV groups were formed in response to the direct experiences of people who faced barriers accessing health and social care. These specialist organisations included the Positive Place in Deptford – which started in an office in Sydenham where Cllr Alan Hall was a volunteer.

Sydenham is a very interesting area. Geographically it is on a hill which has a ridge with its apex at Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace is the place where five local authorities meet – the boundaries of London Boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.

Locally, social services are provided by Councils and health services were overseen by regional health authorities at this time. The provision of HIV services were very variable and much of the work and support was provided by specialist sexual health clinics at the major London teaching hospitals. Hospital social work could provide some support but the end of life care and care at home fell to the patients’ home local authority.

By 1991 the Government had put in place a ringfenced Government Grant called the AIDS Support Grant (ASG) – this was to recognise the additional resources needed to provide services for people with AIDS.

AIMS OF THE GRANT SCHEME

To enable Social Services Departments to draw up strategic plans, based on local population
needs assessments, for commissioning social care for people with HIV/AIDS; and to enable Social Services Departments to finance the provision of social care for people with HIV/AIDS, and where appropriate, their partners, carers and families.
The grant is to assist local authorities with the costs of providing HIV related personal social services.

At the Positive Place – then in Sydenham – we became aware that people with HIV were having problem accessing social services in Bromley. There were general comments and complaints in the other neighbouring boroughs however, in Bromley people were routinely refused a social service.

After extensive enquiries and local research, a meeting with Bromley Social Services Committee Councillors was arranged and a briefing document produced. Richard Cowie, the Clinical Nurse Specialist for South East London Health Authority, David Thomas a Trustee of the Postive Place which had established as a centre for people with HIV in SE London based in Deptford – joined Alan Hall who had become a member of the Bromley Community Health Council and set up Bromley Positive Support Group in Beckenham.

The first section is instructive it is called: NO AIDS HERE

“The first response to deny HIV services is that there is ‘no demand’ for them. In effect, this means no AIDS in Bromley. In 1992 this was the reason used by the London Borough of Bromley for not applying for AIDS Support Grant. Every District Health Authority must submit returns regarding the number of HIV infections and AIDS related deaths yearly and much more detailed information under the provision of the AIDS (Control) Act 1987.”

“The figures are collated in a technical manner and require considerable caution interpretating them. However the latest report for Bromley (1993/4) shows that there are ’48 people living with HIV infection and 2 babies of indeterminate status’.

“It is accepted that this is an underestimate. This includes people who attend Bromley Hospitals or services. It does not include all the people attending specialist centres of excellence, eg Middlesex Hospital, King’s College Hospital, St Thomas’ Hospital, Chelsea & Westminster….of which we know there are several cases. We estimate that there are at least 60 cases – this does not include their families, partners or carers. The no AIDS in Bromley is a myth. Indeed, the Department of Health classifies Bromley as a “moderate” prevelance area.”

“Frequently, AIDS in Bromley has been dismissed as a small number of cases, insignificant. This is a favourite argument of Cllr Cooke. Clearly, 60 people with HIV plus their families is not a small number. Contrast this with the number of people receiving intensive personal care – this is in the order of 70 people.”

The conclusion of the document states: “All of the myths, I am sure you will find have their root in prejudice and bigotry.”

Whilst the Positive Place was in Sydenham the local MP, Jim Dowd agreed to ask a Parliamentary Question. This question revealed that Bromley Council had failed to apply for its indicative allocation of AIDS Support Grant in 1992-3.

Hansard records the written parliamentary question on 14th January 1993:

AIDS
Mr. Dowd : To ask the Secretary of State for Health (Virginia Bottomley)

(1) on what date the London borough of Bromley applied for AIDS support grant for the current financial year ; and what efforts have been made by her Department to urge Bromley to apply for it ;

(2) what amount of AIDS support grant was allocated to each local authority in each year since 1990-91 :

(3) what extra costs she estimates to have been incurred by neighbouring boroughs obliged to deal with HIV/AIDS cases turned away by Bromley social services department ; and what steps she proposes to take to recompense the neighbouring boroughs ;

(4) by what date London boroughs should apply for the AIDS support grant for 1993-94 ; and what steps she will take to ensure that the London borough of Bromley applies for the grant on time ;

(5) how many people in each London borough have died from AIDS :

(6) how many cases of HIV have been reported in the borough of Bromley in each year for which figures are available.

The Minister for Health, Tom Sackville, MP replied:


Mr. Sackville : In December 1991 the Department issued a circular (LAC(91)22) inviting all social services departments in England to bid for extra resources for HIV and AIDS services in 1992-93 under the AIDS support grant scheme. Criteria for bids under this scheme are set out in the circular. Copies are available in the Library. The closing date for bids was 7 February 1992. The London borough of Bromley submitted an application in November 1992 although not in the form and detail set out in departmental guidance. By that time AIDS support grant moneys had been fully committed. The Department was, therefore, unable to allow Bromley’s bid to proceed. Although not in receipt of AIDS support grant money in 1992 -93, we understand that the London borough of Bromley plans to spend £15,000 on HIV and AIDS services in the current year. We have no information to suggest that the borough has been compelled to turn away people affected by HIV.

For 1992-93 local authority social services departments will again be invited to apply for an AIDS support grant allocation. The closing date for applications will be 8 February 1993. It will, of course, be open to the London borough of Bromley to bid for funds under this scheme.

Information on the number of HIV and AIDS cases reported in individual boroughs and of deaths is not held centrally.

The table shows the AIDS support grant allocations which have been awarded since 1990-91 for a full list in England see Hansard.

Allocations for Individual Authorities in London are shown.

London Borough Grant 1990-1Grant 1991-2Grant 1992-3
Camden471,000489,840730,000
Hammersmith1,003,3591,042,0001,300,000
Kensington 627,500652,600970,000
Lambeth 551,000573,040930,000
Westminster625,000 650,000940,000
Brent290,000290,000400,000
Ealing 250,000260,000290,000
Greenwich136,280136,280190,000
Hackney 322,500335,400460,000
Haringey 357,500371,800500,000
Hounslow231,250240,500320,000
Islington235,000244,400360,000
Lewisham 163,750170,300240,000
Richmond 135,000140,400200,000
Southwark 215,000215,000300,000
Tower Hamlets 309,000321,300481,000
Wandsworth 165,122120,152188,000
Barking 14,00017,17332,236
Barnet NIL26,00040,000
Bexley 25,00026,00046,000
Bromley 8,5009,520NIL
City of London 25,00026,00047,000
Croydon 24,50030,00049,000
Enfield14,93816,70250,000
Harrow25,00026,00042,000
HaveringNilNilNil
Hillingdon23,20735,000120,000
Kingston 25,00026,00064,000
Merton 14,00017,17866,000
Newham 72,500110,000250,000
Sutton 22,26030,00057,000
Waltham Forest70,00090,000135,000
The Boroughs are listed in prevalence order and grant awarded


Alan Hall followed up the lack of funding and more importantly, the lack of a strategy in 1993. On 11th October he received the following reply from Baroness Cumberlege, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health in the Lords, this said: “The Department is aware that there has been an absence of a clear HIV/AIDS strategy in Bromley and has been monitoring the situation.”

If the Government were aware, why didn’t they act?

Perhaps, we will never know the answer to that. But the refusal of Bromley Council’s social services Committee members to allocate funding and support proposals for a change in direction led to protest.

The community activists in Outrage knew that Bromley Council were resisting change and they decided to mount a protest. Activists enetered the Council Chamber, chanting and holding placards. Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors stayed in the Chamber whilst shocked tories walked out. The photograph below was taken by the acclaimed photographer, Gordon Rainsford.

AIDS activists protest in Bromley Council Chamber
Outrage in the Bromley Council Chamber

The Pink Paper carried a report of the protest with the headline: “Tory Mayor flees AIDS protesters in Bromley”.

Outrage alleged that the Mayor of Bromley, Cllr Edgington attacked one of its members. This is particularly interesting as this is believed to be a counterclaim, when the Mayor of Bromley made a complaint to the Police that one of the protesters drank from his glass thereby assaulting him.

The fifteen activists held a “die in” where they laid down in the Council Chamber and held tombstone shaped placards with slogans such as killed by Bromley neglect.

In the press report, the case of a 28 year old man who was refused a home help and told to ‘try a private nursing home’ a day before he died is raised.

Daniel Winchester a local resident said that Bromley Council had shown ‘contempt’ to the ill and dying over the last ten years of the pandemic.

The independent voice of social workers – Community Care – carried an article on HIV and AIDS social service provision in March 1993 saying: “Bromley Social Services is behind with its HIV work. It’s bid for 1992-3 was late, so it did not benefit from the 50% increase and that there was great pressure to meet the standards for grant status.” In response a senior Bromley Council social services manager is quoted as saying: “Our services are pretty thin on the ground in this area.”

Confidentiality and public health policy were tested in Bromley by HIV and AIDS

Leaders in the social work profession at the time, believed that there were additional benefits with specialised HIV services as they were ground breaking and that they benefit other areas of social work like confidentiality and increasing good practice more generally.

Outrage blow fog horns and whistles to get attention from Bromley Council

This article has appeared on the Socialist Health Association website

Fight Secrecy! Say Campaigners

Cllr Alan Hall has joined bloggers, campaigners and other journalists supporting the Campaign for Freedom of Information’s crowdfunding initiative to close a funding shortfall.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information played a key part in persuading the Labour government headed by Tony Blair to make and then honour a manifesto commitment to introduce the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2000 and in improving what started out as an extremely weak bill.

However, in his 2010 memoirs Blair took the diametrically opposite view, declaring his earlier support to be that of an “idiot” and a “naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop”. The legislation has faced attempts to weaken it by Governments ever since.

Indeed, Freedom of Information and transparency has hit headlines recently as the tory Government has proposed that the new Health and Care Bill that will establish a Health Services Safety Investigations Body to investigate medical scandals will be exempt from the Freedom of Information legislation.

Campaign for FOI assessment of current threats include:

  • The Health Service Safety Investigations Body is being set up to investigate and help prevent serious patient safety incidents but would be banned from disclosing information under the FOI Act or passing information to a Parliamentary select committee. It would be a criminal offence for a whistleblower to disclose information about its work. Read our briefing for MPs.
  • A new funding body to promote ‘high risk, high reward’ research, with a budget of £800m over four years, will be excluded from FOI altogether under the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. Read about our campaign here.
  • Home Office proposals to revise the Official Secrets Act will make it easier to convict those who disclose information without authority and substantially increase prison sentences for convicted whistleblowers or journalists. Astonishingly, it says the maximum penalty for leaking, currently 2 years imprisonment, should be the same as that for espionage – 14 years. 

The CFOI are also working to:

  • Close the FOI loophole that prevents the public finding out about public services delivered by contractors. So if, for example, an NHS body uses a private contractor to provide ambulances the public’s right to know how well the service operates will be severely undermined.
  • Ensure that time limits for responding to FOI requests are rigorously enforced.

The Freedom of Information Act gives individuals the right to ask for any recorded information held by a government department, local council, NHS trust, police force or other public body. 

Together with the Environmental Information Regulations these form part of the crucial rights to have access to information from Government bodies.

The United Nations states that work to enhance freedom of information, thereby supporting transparent and accountable institutions, is also important to the rule of law.

It should be remembered that the Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on signatory countries including the UK and public authorities, obligations regarding access to information and public participation. It backs up these rights with access to justice provisions that go some way towards putting teeth into the Convention. In fact, the preamble directly links environmental protection to human rights norms and expressly recognises that every person has the right to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being. The EU has based legislation on the Aarhus Convention however, the responsibility to implement the various provisions remain in the UK unless the Government propose to leave.

“The Aarhus Convention’s twin protections for environmental and human rights, and its focus on involving the public, provide a mechanism for holding governments to account in their efforts to address the multi-dimensional challenges facing our world today, including climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty reduction, increasing energy demands, rapid urbanization, and air and water pollution” – Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Local Authorities are subject to the Aarhus Convention. Cllr Alan Hall asked a Member Question to the newly elected Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan who had taken personal responsibility for the planning portfolio at a full Lewisham Council meeting in July 2018.

The first question posed to Mayor Damien Egan at a full Council meeting in July 2018
Basis for public participation in environmental including planning matters

During the Covid-19 pandemic the Campaign for Freedom of Information has said that there is a severe backlog of FOI requests in some areas. Complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can take a year before it starts investigating some freedom of information complaints.

“Unless the backlog is reduced quickly, both the operation of the Act and the public’s confidence in it will be severely damaged. Regular reporting on the real size of the problem and the time it is taking to carry out substantive investigations is essential to an effective right to know.” – Campaign for Freedom of Information

New challenges face public scrutiny of decision makers with the use of private emails and messaging services like whatsapp. Elizabeth Denham CBE the Information Commissioner wrote in the Municipal Journal that the five key recommendations that anyone handling FoI requests within a public authority needs to bear in mind:

1) Make sure your staff, relevant public officials and elected representatives understand how they can securely access official IT systems and equipment. This should minimise the need to use private correspondence channels.

2) Train staff to recognise which communications relate to official business and which relate to non-official information, across all channels. In the context of local government, you should have a way of distinguishing between official business and an elected official’s work on behalf of their constituents.

3) Review and communicate your records management policy. You should regularly tell staff what they need to do to ensure information related to public authority business is transferred to official systems as soon as possible.

4) When handling FoI requests make sure you consider whether communications held on private correspondence channels, such as WhatsApp, may be relevant to the request.

5) Ensure staff correctly adhere to the relevant policies and procedures and regularly review them to ensure staff knowledge remains up to date. Remember, erasing, destroying or concealing information with the intention of preventing disclosure after a request is received is a criminal offence.

To support the Campaign for Freedom of Information with their crowdfunding please click here.

At the full Lewisham Council meeting on Wednesday, 24th November, new figures on the response rate to Freedom of Information requests were announced.

Lewisham Council figures for FOI and EIR responses released on 24th November 2021

Cllr Alan Hall asked a supplementary question to find out how the declining trend over the last four years would be reversed – he was told that Lewisham Council had risen in a league table of London Authorities from near the bottom to average. The full exchange can be viewed at 1h 50 minutes on the webcast here

Abuse Is Not Part of the Job Say Shop Workers

Cllr Alan Hall has joined campaigners, co-operators, shop workers and trade unionists calling on the Government to making it an offence to assault, threaten or abuse shopworkers.

In the annual ‘Respect for Shopworkers Week’ 15-21 November 2021, trade union USDAW has released shocking statistics that show:

  • 89% have experienced verbal abuse.
  • 64% were threatened by a customer.
  • 11% were assaulted.
  • 46% said they were not confident that reporting abuse, threats and violence will make a difference.
  • 7% of those who had been assaulted did not report the incident.
Shopworker abuse

Lord Vernon Coaker, Labour’s Home Affairs spokesperson said:

“Nearly half of the respondents to the Usdaw survey don’t believe that reporting the abuse they have faced makes a difference. Indeed, it’s clear the police have not viewed attacks against shopworkers as a priority. A Freedom of Information request made by the Co-op Group showed that the police did not attend 65% of the reported serious incidents in its stores last year. None of this is acceptable.”

“Abuse is not part of the job and it should never become normalised, common, or accepted. Nobody should be going to work expecting to face abuse, threats, and violence. But if it does happen, they need to be confident that the system is on their side. The current situation clearly needs to change and the only way to do that is through strong and decisive action at Parliament.”

Amendments were tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Lords on Wednesday, 17th November. During the debate, Lord Coaker stated that we have to challenge the police and others on those instances when crimes were reported but the response was not what we would expect it to be.

A Freedom of Information request made by the Co-op Group revealed that the police failed to attend in 65% of the incidents reported in Co-op stores. These will be the most serious incidents.

Cllr Alan Hall is a long standing supporter of the call for greater protection for shopworkers.

From alcohol and cigarettes to knives and acid, there are now more than 50 types of products that are restricted by law. It’s staff on the shop floor who we expect to enforce those laws, and who all too often pay the price in the form of violence, threats and verbal and physical abuse from customers. We ask shopworkers to uphold the law – but the law doesn’t do enough to protect them.Co-operative Party

USDAW has published some voices from the frontline giving examples of the abuse suffered by retail staff. Their survey says:

“Customer attempted to punch me upon asking for ID from his partner who appeared under 25.”
“Mocking my intelligence and misogynistic comment about my physical abilities.”
“Pulled my top open and stuffed some paper down my chest.”
“A customer spat in my face, in another incident a customer threw a basket of stock at me.”
“Abuse over rules, Covid policy and face masks.”
“Been physically assaulted, spat at, verbally abused, punched, hand round throat.”
“Called a c**t because we don’t have enough turkeys.”
“Hit with trolleys, verbally abused, called names and pushed.”
“Was shouted and sworn at, threatened to be beaten up and set on fire.”

Unfortunately, the Conservative Government has not accepted the amendment to the Bill however, it has agreed that changes should be made.

‘Grave Concern’ Over Goldsmiths Cuts

Cllr Alan Hall has joined thousands of academics, artists and local residents to express ‘grave concern’ at the plans for 52 staff redundancies and a restructuring at Goldsmiths University sited in New Cross within the London Borough of Lewisham.

The letter explains that Goldsmiths serves the needs of some of the most diverse communities in the UK, with a high proportion of its students coming from ethnic minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Cllr Alan Hall has been a long standing supporter of closer links with the prestigious higher education college and local residents. He said: “Goldsmiths is a part of Deptford’s and Lewisham’s history – it is an integral part of our rich diversity.”

Hit the headlines in The Observer

The publication of the letter hit headlines in The Observer recently. The national newspaper noted that new university job cuts fuel rising outrage on campuses claiming that Goldsmiths targets humanities faculties in round of redundancies.

The trade union – UCU – has started to ballot for industrial action over pay, pensions and conditions in the higher education sector nationally. This is looks like a winter discontent.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.

“The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.

“Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”

The Goldsmiths Letter in full.

We are academics, researchers and artists who have in various ways collaborated with members of the Goldsmiths community over the years or have been members of staff or students ourselves – or are simply acquainted with the College’s stellar reputation.

Goldsmiths, University of London, is internationally renowned for its progressive and critical education, its commitment to social justice and for hosting some of the most respected and creative scholars in the world. Its researchers, writers, musicians, performers, artists and media producers are world-leading; its alumni go on to outstanding achievements, in all areas.

Goldsmiths serves the needs of some of the most diverse communities in the UK, with a high proportion of its students coming from ethnic minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently, many of these students and their families live in boroughs hardest-hit by the Covid-19 crisis.

We are writing to express our utmost concern at the plans for radical restructuring, which threaten not only the jobs of staff members at a time of grave economic crisis, but also the very identity of Goldsmiths as we know it.

We were dismayed to read about the jobs already lost last year through voluntary severance, and are appalled now by the 52 redundancies recently announced for professional and academic staff.

We are distressed to discover that the detailed and crucial expertise of administrative staff central to departments is being disregarded and will be lost, through a misguided centralisation and drastic reduction of the number of posts.

We understand that academic redundancies are confined to the departments of English & Creative Writing and of History in this first round, but that there will be more. If they go ahead, these cuts will irremediably damage research capacity, academic practices and cultures, the student experience, as well as the viability of important and world-renowned departments, home to leading, and often unique, research hubs such as the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, the Decadence Research Centre, the Centre for Comparative Literature, the Centre for the Study of the Balkans, the Centre of the Body, and the Centre for Queer History.

We are shocked to hear that the redundancies are being managed by external consultants with no disciplinary expertise, and who do not understand the immediate, middle- and long-term consequences of their decisions.

We hear with consternation that academics with high specialisation are under threat of redundancy even when their area of expertise is being retained – as though Black British and Caribbean Literature, Queer and Black British History, or Critical Theory were mere adornments on a portfolio rather than fields built upon rigorous training and deeply rooted scholarship. Presumably, their posts will be filled by cheaper, precarious staff; or staff with different expertise, asked to take on their (“redundant”) colleagues’ work. But a discipline is nothing without expertise; a degree is not a brand. Yet it appears that Goldsmiths’ management sees its core mission as no different from fast fashion, as a business built on precarity and the misguided flexibilization of a labour force rendered unable to develop long-term commitment to their discipline; in this, Senior Management show utter disregard for the integrity of the education they want to sell.

We are outraged that the Warden, Frances Corner, OBE, and Senior Management appear determined to pursue this damaging course of action instead of, with the same determination, proactively fundraising and lobbying the government for assistance as peer institutions have done – while also making a powerful case against the present ruinous and bankrupt system of funding for Higher Education, and in favour of the recognition of the immense contribution of the humanities and the arts to society and to the economy.

We call upon Frances Corner, upon Council, and upon Senior Management to halt the decimation of the departments of English & Creative Writing and of History, the redundancies within professional services and the current restructuring plans, and to find, in collaboration with their staff, more sustainable and more effective solutions that will protect not only the livelihood of their dedicated and loyal employees, but also the reputation of the institution.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

London Borough of Lewisham

Campaigners Say ‘Fund the Fight’ To End HIV

Cllr Alan Hall has joined campaigners calling for government action to end new cases of HIV in the UK by 2030. Lewisham has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country.

HIV charities and organisations formed a HIV Commission in 2020 and published a report on the 1st December 2020 which is World AIDS Day. The report found that HIV testing is crucial to ending new HIV transmissions in England by 2030.

“By increasing testing, we can stop HIV in its tracks and make sure more people can access life-saving HIV treatment. Yet, despite testing being cost effective and taking just minutes to do, access remains inconsistent.” – HIV Commissioners

In 2019, there were nearly 550,000 missed opportunities to test for HIV in specialist sexual health services, with over 252,000 incidents of an HIV test not even being offered.

“Every missed opportunity to test someone for HIV is a failure to them, and to the goal of ending new transmissions. Stigma is often a key factor in declining an HIV test, this is well documented, particularly for Black African communities,” the report’s authors said.

Russell T Davies, Olly Alexander and Callum Scott Howells from hit Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin have joined forces with long-time campaigner Sir Elton John have made a new film demanding that the UK Government ‘fund the fight’ to ensure its goal of ending new HIV cases by 2030 is achieved.

Russell T Davies, creator of It’s A Sin, said: ‘The show has had a bigger impact than we ever dared hope. My initial motivation was to tell stories of love and loss that had gone untold for far too long. But it’s clear how much has still to be done in 2021.

‘The response to what we created has been overwhelming, but too many people’s views and knowledge of HIV are still firmly rooted in the 1980s. If we can play even a tiny part in helping to change that while supporting the work of charities and activists to end new HIV cases in this country by 2030, then what a wonderful legacy that would be.’

Florence Obadeyi, who is living with HIV, said: ‘Getting tested for HIV while pregnant was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It meant my child was born without HIV because of interventions they can make prior to birth and means I was able to access the medication and support I needed to keep me well.

‘If I hadn’t decided to have a baby and been testing during standard prenatal checks, I don’t know how long it would have been before I received my diagnosis. That’s exactly why we need to see HIV testing happening across healthcare.’

Campaigners say that the funding should be included in the Comprehensive Spending Review on Wednesday 27 October where public spending will be allocated for the next three years.

Local Councils fund HIV work through their public health departments. The local NHS deliver much of this work.

Dear Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid,

Fund the fight to end new cases of HIV by 2030

Lewisham has one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in Europe.

Every week 80 lives in the UK are changed forever because they are diagnosed with HIV. 

It has now been 40 years since the first cases of HIV were reported and, despite huge medical advances which mean HIV is thankfully no longer a death sentence, preventable cases of HIV are still happening. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. The government has the power to change this in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review – you can help to end the HIV epidemic in the UK. It has been nearly 1,000 days since Department for Health and Social Care Ministers committed to doing this by 2030. The clock is now ticking.

Millions of people in the UK watched Channel 4’s drama It’s A Sin, seeing the agonising destruction HIV/AIDS caused so many lives in the early days of the epidemic. This show galvanised thousands of people to test for HIV – many for the first time.

Now the government needs to play its part. That’s why I’m writing to you both to ask that you seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change countless lives.

Across the UK, there are at least 6,600 people who are living with HIV but are not diagnosed. There are still over half a million people who leave a sexual health clinic but don’t test for HIV. And there are still people who are being diagnosed so late that their health is irreversibly impacted. 

At the Dispatch Box on World AIDS Day 2020, the Chancellor underlined the government’s commitment to ending the domestic HIV epidemic within the decade:

‘As we remember those we have lost to HIV and AIDS, we also remind ourselves of the need for further action. I am proud that this Conservative Government’s policy is to end new HIV transmission by 2030—a commitment reaffirmed today at the launch of the HIV Commission.’

Now I ask you both to turn these words into action.

We need the government to fully fund its new HIV Action Plan as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The government promised to ‘build back better’ after the COVID-19 pandemic; now is the time to do this in the fight to end HIV. 

Here’s what must happen: 

  1. Expand HIV testing. Everyone needs to know their HIV status be able to get HIV treatment if needed. Free at-home testing all year round and tests in hospitals and GPs in areas of high rates of HIV in England.
  2. Greater support for people living with HIV. Regardless of where someone lives in the country, they should have access to life-saving treatment, mental health, and support services, so they can enjoy healthier lives.
  3. Increased funding for HIV prevention. More people need to be aware of and have access to the HIV prevention drug PrEP. 
  4. New national HIV prevention programmes and campaigns. These must inform and educate people about the realities of HIV in 2021, stopping HIV stigma including Undetectable=Untransmittable messaging.

Action now will have huge impact and put the country on course to end transmissions by the end of the decade. History will look kindly on the leadership and financial commitment that was made to fight to end new cases in this way.

I urge the government not to miss this opportunity. Fund the fight and take the decisions required to end new cases of HIV by 2030. We need action now.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

London Borough of Lewisham

 

Fund the HIV Action Plan

River Pool Pollution – Environment Agency Responds

Residents complaints alert of pollution

Scores of fish including eels were killed after a “blue coloured substance” entered the local River Pool. Councillor Alan Hall wrote to the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan on the 13th September to request details of the investigation.

The reply says that Environment Officers, and Fisheries Officers, attended site to substantiate the reports and assess the impacts of the pollution. Our monitoring demonstrated an impact to water quality and there was visible evidence of discolouration and pollution within the watercourse. Dead and distressed fish were recorded from the outfall at Cator Park, to the confluence with the Ravensbourne, which is estimated to be just over 2 miles in length. Thankfully, no dead fish were observed downstream of the confluence, including Ladywell Park where good fish populations are known to exist. From our monitoring we are satisfied that the impact to the fish populations did not extend beyond the Ravensbourne confluence.

“Our initial assessment indicates that the fish population was severely depleted in the
length impacted. All life stages were affected including at least 40 large eels, plus
specimens of Chub, Dace and Perch. We plan to undertake a further survey of the
impacted stretch to assess the remaining population and from this will determine the
need for restocking. If the initial assessment is proved to be correct, then it is likely
that stocking of silver fish will take place. These fish will come from the Environment
Agency fish farm which was established for such incidents. However, these fish will
be 2 years old and will not be a direct replacement for the mature fish lost.”
– The Environment Agency

Due to the serious nature of the incident and the detrimental impact to the eel and
fish population the Environment Agency are continuing to investigate the circumstances of this incident with a view to considering potential enforcement action.

Cllr Alan Hall has asked to be kept informed.

The full text of the response from the Environment Agency following pollution in the River Pool is here

Enivironment-Agency-River-Pool-reply-CE12319-2021.09.28

Reports on social media indicate that the incident may have resulted from a portable toilet being emptied into the river.

In a statement the Environment Agency said: “With the assistance of Thames Water, we were able to identify that it was linked to a third party flytipping some waste material into Thames Water’s surface water network. This, then released the polluting matter into the watercourse via the Cator Park surface water outfall.”

Catford Island Site Planning Consultation Launched

A leaflet and website have been published for local residents outlining the early development proposals for the Catford Island Site – this is the area in Catford where Plassy Road School once stood. Currently, there is a shopping area with a Lidl, bingo hall and some other retail outlets with a car park.

Map of the road layout showing the Catford Island Site courtesy Google

The website sponsored by the partners involved in the development is here: www.catfordisland.commonplace.is

The five page leaflet can be read below.

Catford-Island-Consultation-1-leaflet-plassy-road-111021

You can contact the project team directly with comments by calling 0800 999 1523 or emailing hello@catfordisland.com

Lewisham Council have published a Catford Town Centre Framework planning document

Local Councillors have announced the consultation on twitter

A ten storey building at 161 Rushey Green has received planning permission on appeal. This is adjacent to this site and forms part of the Plassy Road land known as the Catford Island.

Full details in the brochure here

Build More Social Housing In Lewisham

Cllr Alan Hall has joined campaigners demanding more social housing and an end to the housing ’emergency’.

Campaign to build social housing

Radical action is needed now as according to Shelter – the housing charity – there is a housing crisis, where 120,000 children are homeless, 282,000 social homes have been lost in the last decade and 3.7 million private renters have been victims of illegal behaviour by a landlord or agent.

Cllr Alan Hall has signed a letter to the new Secretary of State, Michael Gove urging him to act now to:

  • Improve the rights of renters by bringing forward an ambitious Renter’s Reform Bill to create a fairer renting system  
  • Build more homes people can afford by committing to more social housing and fixing the planning system to make developers deliver more
  • Help people at risk of sleeping rough by funding the Everyone In initiative to protect people who are homeless this Winter 

Without more social homes, the country won’t be able to escape the grip of the housing emergency. More people will become stuck in unaffordable, overcrowded, insecure housing – especially families and older people.

Government funding will be spent on helping the growing number of families cover the cost of unaffordable private rents through housing benefit, rather than investing in the bricks and mortar of new homes with guaranteed low rents.

Council housing at rents that people can really afford is needed now.

For too long ‘affordable’ has been misused as a term for rents. Social housing should be at traditional Council rents.

The definitions of affordable according to the GLA

You can read the full letter here.

Alan-Hall-letter_to_Michael_Gove-shelter-041021

Specialist housing advice is available and Shelter say that you can talk to an expert housing adviser if you’re in urgent need of housing advice at their helpline on 0808 800 4444

Shelter say you should use this line if:

You have nowhere to sleep, or might be homeless soon

You have somewhere to sleep, but nowhere to call home

You are/could be at risk of harm

Shelter’s helpline is open every single day of the year:

8am – 8pm on weekdays

9am – 5pm on weekends

Don’t Cut Universal Credit

Cllr Alan Hall has joined trade unionists, campaigners and think tanks in applying pressure for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak to overturn the decision to cut £20 per week from Universal Credit claimants many are working on low pay. This comes as the Resolution Foundation has revealed that four in ten households on Universal Credit face 13 per cent rise in energy bills in same month as their income is cut by £20 a week.

Lewisham CAB warn of ‘perfect storm’

In July 2021, there were 39,552 people claiming Universal Credit in the London Borough of Lewisham, of these 15,769 are working.

Jonny Marshall, Senior Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Low income families are facing a cost of living crunch on several fronts this autumn with energy bills rising alongside wider price increases, while Universal Credit is also due to be cut by £20 a week.”

“Around 15 million households are set to face higher prices next week when the energy price cap is raised. This will be particularly acute for low income families on Universal Credit, who are four times as likely as the rest of the population to be on pre-payment meters, and therefore face even bigger increases to their bills.”

The Foundation notes that 4.4 million households on Universal Credit are set to see their energy bills rise significantly in October, the same month that will see them typically lose over 5 per cent of their disposable income as the £20 a week uplift to UC comes to an end, and as the onset of winter boosts energy consumption.

The energy price cap is set to rise by £139 a year (12 per cent) to £1,277 (for a typical gas and electricity customer) a year from 1 October, but a larger increase of £153 (13 per cent) a year will affect pre-payment meter customers. Pre-payment meter customers are also overwhelmingly on variable rather than fixed rate tariffs and so will be more swiftly affected by these price rises.

Universal Credit is available to people who are in work and on a low income, as well as to those who are out of work. The numbers in work make up a significant proportion of the total claimants hovering around the 40% mark.

The number of people on Universal Credit in London and surrounding regions has doubled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic according to Government statistics up to January 2021.

People on Universal Credit in employment, Great Britain, December 2015 to December 2020 source HM Government

In November 2020, the Government estimates that one in five claimants receive a reduction due to the bedroom tax. The average (mean) monthly reduction amount was £70 and the median reduction amount was £60. This will be additional to the £20 per week cut.

Lewisham Citizens Advice Bureau have released details of some of the cases seen by frontline advisers, these include:

Aliyah, who is struggling to find a job because of the pandemic, and paying back deductions for an advanced payment and also outstanding council tax debt. Their flat is in poor condition and many of their household appliances are broken. Aliyah already struggles with poor mental health and is worried that removing the £20 increase will make this worse and lead to her having to rely on foodbanks to eat.

They are also seeing an increase in clients who have had to take time off work after catching coronavirus, which exacerbated their existing health conditions. They fear they will fall into housing debt without the £20 a week increase. Along with single parents who are only just able to pay for after school childcare costs while they work thanks to the £20 increase. This has helped them stay in their job and pay essential bills.

Gary Jones, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Lewisham, said:

“Every day, our staff and volunteers see the difference the increase to Universal Credit has made to families. As an organisation we have supported over 24,000 clients in the last year and for many of them, Universal Credits has been a key factor in helping them keep their heads above water. Without that extra money, we fear we’d see more people coming to us in debt, unable to pay their bills or turning to food banks because they can’t afford the essentials. As we look to rebuild our borough through the ongoing impact of COVID , the government must invest in the benefits system and keep this vital lifeline.”

The full text of the letter by Cllr Alan Hall is here:

Rishi Sunak MP

Chancellor of the Exchequer

HM Treasury

Dear Chancellor,

Please don’t turn your back on six million people. There is an economic argument, a humanitarian argument and fairness argument that asks for an urgent rethink of your decision to cut Universal Credit from the 5th October.

Your callous cut will push countless families and working people into even deeper debt and poverty in what is the biggest overnight benefit since World War II.

Never has a Chancellor’s duty to protect the most vulnerable been more pertinent. Charities are warning that one million households will lose 10 per cent of their income overnight when you snatch back the £20 a week – £1,040 a year – with one in four children made poorer as a result.

With 40% of Universal Credit claimants already in jobs, perhaps as chancellor you should be focused on halting the march of poverty pay, not taking £20 from those most in need.

Levelling up does not start with ripping up our already threadbare safety net. Even the Universal Credit-General accepts that the benefit has for years been slipping further and further below what people earn in jobs, because of freezes.

Please listen to your own Tory MPs, including Universal Credit’s architect Iain Duncan-Smith, footballer, anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford, and the many charities, landlords and debt organisations who have all condemned the cut.

But most importantly listen to Universal Credit claimants when they say this money isn’t paying for luxuries like swimming pools and tennis courts. For them it’s literally meant the difference between heating and eating.

Without this vital income boost vulnerable children will suffer. This will be on your watch and your legacy.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall – Bellingham