Posts tagged "Wales"

Firefighters strike over pensions across England and Wales

Firefighters strike over pensions across England and Wales

Members of Fire Brigades Union set up picket lines, with threat of further action if dispute continues. Read more…

Posted by admin - September 25, 2013 at 15:33

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Deputy speaker Nigel Evans: career profile

The Tory MP for Ribble Valley is a popular Westminster figure who kept in touch with his Welsh roots and came out in 2010

The deputy speaker Nigel Evans has been Tory MP for Ribble Valley for more than 20 years.

Born and raised in Swansea, he stayed in the Welsh city for his university years and gained a BA Hons in politics.

Having joined the Conservative party as a 17-year-old, Evans became a councillor on West Glamorgan county council from 1985 to 1991, and was elected deputy Conservative group leader in 1990.

He contested Swansea in the 1987 general election, Pontypridd in the 1989 byelection and then the Ribble Valley in the 1991 byelection, before being elected MP for the Lancashire constituency the following year.

Evans kept his links to his home city, keeping ownership of his family convenience store Evans the News in Townhill, set up by his grandfather in the 1930s, until he sold it last year.

He was parliamentary private secretary to several cabinet members in the 1990s, including the then employment secretary David (now Lord) Hunt, the agriculture minister Tony Baldry and to William Hague when he was secretary of state for Wales.

In June 1997, he was appointed opposition frontbench spokesman for Welsh affairs and he went on to lead the Conservative party’s general election campaign in Wales three years later.

Iain Duncan Smith gave Evans the position of shadow secretary of state for Wales in 2001, which he held for two years, and he was appointed to the Welsh affairs select committee in 2003. He was vice-chairman of the Conservative party from 2004 to 2005.

A popular figure at Westminster, Evans was elected as one of the three Commons deputy speakers in June 2010.

Later that year, he revealed he was gay, saying that he was “tired of living a lie”. He came out on the eve of the launch of a new help group for politicians and Westminster staff, ParliOut, in which he was involved.

At the time, Evans claimed a Labour MP had threatened to “out” him and that he had decided to be open about his sexuality to help others in a similar position.

He had discussed the issue with Gareth Thomas, the former Welsh rugby international who had been married before coming out, and said he realised it “should be no big deal” for him to do the same.

Evans said he had been “confused” about how to protect pupils when he backed the Tories’ notorious Section 28 legislation in the 1980s and later regretted that support.

As well as keeping his grandfather’s shop, Evans was said to be “fond of coming home” to Wales. The former Swansea councillor highlighted his concerns over Clostridium difficile following the death of his mother, Betty, at Singleton hospital. And last week he attended a Welsh Conservative party conference at the Liberty Stadium.

Welsh political commentator Gareth Hughes described Evans as a highly respected individual among his party colleagues, who loved returning to Swansea but was “not a great lover of devolution”.

Evans has a personal interest in American politics and worked on three US presidential campaigns in the 1980s. He returned to the US in 2000, acting as British Conservative party parliamentary observer.

In the Debrett’s People of Today profile on Evans, he lists his recreations as tennis, swimming, and all spectator sports. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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Posted by admin - May 5, 2013 at 12:55

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Local elections 2013/South Shields byelection – as it happened

Thursday’s coverage of the local elections in much of England and one part of Wales, plus the South Shields byelection

Paul Owen
David Batty


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Posted by admin - May 3, 2013 at 02:14

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Ministry dismisses Andrew Wakefield’s criticism over Wales measles outbreak

Epidemic the fault of health officials, claims doctor who was struck off after starting global MMR vaccine scare

The Department of Health has dismissed claims by a former doctor who started a global scare about the MMR vaccine that officials were responsible for the outbreak of measles in south Wales.

The epidemic in south Wales, which has affected almost 700 people, is believed to have been partly caused by parents not vaccinating their children because of fears that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine could cause autism.

Health officials in south Wales said that more than 1,000 MMR jabs were given on Saturday at the Singleton, Morriston, Neath Port Talbot and Princess of Wales hospitals.

The fears were promoted by Andrew Wakefield, who was later struck off by the British Medical Association. In a written statement, he accused the government of causing the epidemic by stopping the import of a vaccine that acted against measles only.

Wakefield wrote that in September 1998, the government withdrew the import licence for the single vaccine, effectively blocking this option for parents, and so “measles cases in the UK rose”.

He said: “The government’s concern appeared to be to protect the MMR programme over and above the protection of children.”

Wakefield said two MMR vaccine brands had to be withdrawn for safety reasons. “These government officials put price before children’s health and have been seeking to cover up this shameful fact ever since.”

The BMA struck Wakefield off the medical register in 2010, saying he had behaved “dishonestly and irresponsibly” and showed “callous disregard for children’s suffering”.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Andrew Wakefield’s claims are completely incorrect. Immunisation advice from the department has always kept the interests of patients paramount.

“Measles is a highly infectious and harmful disease. If your child has not had two doses of MMR, whatever their age, we urge you to contact your GP surgery and make an appointment.”

Almost 700 people have become infected in the Swansea area.

Another 73 cases were announced on Thursday – bringing the number infected there to 693. Public Health Wales has urged parents of unvaccinated children across Wales to act immediately to ensure they are protected against the potentially fatal disease.

It has warned that at least 6,000 children remain unvaccinated in the Swansea area alone.

Drop-in vaccination clinics were open in south Wales on Saturday, at hospitals in the Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Newport, Hengoed, Swansea, Bridgend and Port Talbot areas.

Last weekend more than 1,000 queued up for the MMR vaccination at clinics across south Wales.

Although the outbreak is centred on Swansea, cases have continued to be reported across the area.

Most are in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health region, which includes Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend.

Cases have also been found in Powys and in the Hywel Dda health board area, which covers Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Typical symptoms of measles include fever, cough, conjunctivitis and a rash. Complications are quite common even in healthy people, and about 20% of reported measles cases experience one or more complications.

These can include ear infections, vomiting and diarrhoea, pneumonia, meningitis and serious eye disorders.

Before the introduction of the measles jab in the UK in 1968, about half a million people caught measles each year of whom about 100 died.

Annual measles deaths fell to single figures after the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988 but concerns over the jab’s safety were raised in the late 1990s when Wakefield produced a since discredited paper suggesting MMR was linked to an increased risk of autism. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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Posted by admin - April 13, 2013 at 12:16

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The bid to revive Wales’ co-operative economy

Andrew Davies explains why the Welsh government is keen to help co-operatives and mutuals thrive once again

Wales, the birthplace of Robert Owen, has a rich co-operative history which stretches back to the 1840s, with early co-operative societies. The famous Rochdale Pioneers inspired a new wave of co-operation in Wales. From the 1860s onwards, larger co-operative societies developed, bringing with them greater stability and longevity. None more so that the Cwmbach Co-operative Society, which endured in South Wales for more than 80 years, before falling victim to the rocky employment relationships of the 1920s coal pits.

Today, co-operative sentiments linger: one in five of us in Wales are members of a co-op; co-operatives generate more than £1bn in income a year in Wales and employ an estimated 7,000 people.

Successful examples of co-operative business can be found. The renewable energy firm Dulas ltd is employee owned, has rapidly increasing turnover and has been in the top 50 of Wales’ fastest growing businesses for three years running.

Calon Wen Organic Milk Co-operative consists of 25 dairy farmers who market their milk under the Calon Wen brand. By working together to create a premium product before going to market, the farmers receive a price for their produce which is above the market rate.

The Welsh Government has asked me to lead a commission to make recommendations as to how they can help co-operatives and mutuals thrive in Wales.

This opportunity is huge. A nation with an ambitious, open minded and agile government is the perfect environment for new ideas to thrive. A step change for co-operatives and mutuals in Wales may be in gestation. Previous good ideas born in Wales have found their way over its borders, so these recommendations, over time may have implications for the rest of the UK. A major difference could be made. Provided we can get this right.

To find answers, I have been joined by the some of the best minds on co-operation from across the Wales and the rest of the UK. We will meet each month until September, not amongst ourselves, but bringing people in from the thick of the co-operative and mutual economy whether they are based in Wales, the rest of the UK or further afield. In September, cogitation will cease. I will provide a report, including practical recommendations to the Welsh government’s minister for economy, science and transport, and the commission will be no more.

It will fall to the minister to decide whether the recommendations can, or indeed should, be implemented but the opportunity is huge.

This is where members of the Guardian Social Enterprise Network can help. Let’s network.

What are the opportunities for developing and growing co-operatives and mutuals in Wales? Are there particular sectors of untapped potential? Is there something that could be done more, or done better?

What role should co-operatives and mutuals take in the delivery of public services? What are the good reasons for public services to be delivered through co-operative and mutual approaches? What are the potential challenges and pitfalls? What is working well in the rest of the world and how can we make it work here?

How can the Welsh government support the formation and growth of co-operatives in Wales? Is there something that the government can do to help transform unrealised opportunities to model enterprises for the rest of the world to admire?

What are the challenges in establishing and expanding co-operatives and mutuals? How can we get round them? Many businesses struggle to get off the ground, is there something that makes it particularly hard for co-operatives and mutuals to start trading? Should co-operatives be expanding at a greater rate? What is stopping them?

Could information technology and social media be used to strengthen the co-operative and mutual economy?

You can help by leaving your comments below. Or you can visit our call for evidence to get in touch directly. Diolch yn fawr or thank you very much, in advance.

Professor Andrew Davies is chair of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutual Commission. He is also chair of Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board. Between 1999-2011, he was a member of the National Assembly for Wales and a Welsh Government cabinet minister for over ten years, including time as economic development minister.

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Posted by admin - April 12, 2013 at 11:25

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No haven in Hackney: census 2011 reveals housing divide

Data shows more people in England and Wales are renting, with London borough having lowest percentage of homeowners

Grace Santos is not surprised the census has exposed Hackney as the place with the lowest percentage of mortgage-free homeowners in England and Wales.

In a nearby estate agent’s window in the east London borough, which has the lowest proportion of residents who own their homes outright, the cheapest one-bedroom flat – a “character property” over a shop – is £190,000 while the cheapest rent is £257 a week.

“Before, you could find a house to buy here very easily, but now it is very expensive,” she said. “Rich people are coming here now because they think it is posh, but it is not posh. I don’t know what young people can do, where they will live.”

The 2011 census reveals a widening divide in the housing market: more people are renting, while the cohort of homeowners is ageing, paying off their mortgages and more likely to own their homes mortgage-free.

For years after moving here Santos, who is almost 77 and originally from Portugal, lived in a privately rented flat with no bathroom. There was an outside toilet, and she could shower at her work in a London hotel.

“When I had cancer for the second time my social worker said I must have a bathroom,” she said. “So now I live in a council flat and I have a bathroom, but it is very expensive to heat, it could cost £400 a month this winter.”

In the park opposite Meynell Crescent, an immaculate curve of mainly owner-occupied Victorian houses, Jennie Wood and Cheryl Smith were counting their blessings. An NHS nurse and midwife, they both rent in a smart block of keyworkers’ flats. It is big enough for them to keep their dogs and neither could ever afford to rent the flats opposite or even buy in the area.

Both accept that if they want to buy they will have to find jobs outside London. “Many of my colleagues are doing that already,” Smith said. “I just don’t understand how anyone can get on to the property ladder in London any longer.”

Helena Reynolds and Daniel West were heading home from the council housing office, with her children Natasha, three, and Ben, four, to West’s one-bedroom flat. They are desperate to move somewhere bigger: their baby was due last Friday.

Living on benefits, they see no possibility of ever being able to rent privately, never mind buy, in Hackney or anywhere in London. All around them they see young but richer people moving in after being priced out of other areas. “If I was ever to try, I’d head for the coast,” West said. “All of London is just ridiculous now.”

Film and TV director Tom Shankland scrambled on to the ladder 10 years ago when he realised he could no longer afford to buy in Stoke Newington where he was living, and instead bought a two-bedroom flat elsewhere in Hackney.

He couldn’t afford it now, or a house, but he loves the area even though he fears for the demise of the mix of people and cultures that attracted him. “It’s a cliche, but really all human life is here.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - December 11, 2012 at 22:06

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Census 2011: religion, race and qualifications – see how England & Wales have changed

What does Census 2011 tell us about the state of England & Wales today?

Marital status | Religion | Ethnicity | Year of arrival | Qualifications | Health | Property tenure | Economic activity

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How has England & Wales changed in the last decade? Today we get a pretty good idea as the Office for National Statistics releases the first detailed results of the 2011 census. If you want to find out what religions, we practice, how many of us are mixed-race, where we come from and whether we work, this is the place to do it.

Here’s what we know today:

• Four out of every five (81%, 45.5 million) described themselves as being in good or very good health
• 10% (5.8 million) of residents of England and Wales provided unpaid care for someone with an illness or disability. This was the same percentage as in 2001 (10 per cent, 5.2 million).
• The number of residents who stated that their religion was Christian in 2011 was fewer than in 2001. The size of this group decreased 13 percentage points to 59% (33.2 million) in 2011 from 72% (37.3 million) in 2001
• Most residents of England and Wales are White (86%, 48.2
million) in 2011
• 12% (2.0 million) of households with at least two people had partners or household members of different ethnic groups in 2011, a three percentage point increase on 2001
• Of the 13% (7.5 million) of residents of England and Wales on 27 March 2011 who were born outside of the UK, just over half (3.8 million) arrived in the last 10 years
• Home ownership decreased four percentage points since 2001, but
more people owned their home outright
• The number of cars and vans increased from 23.9 million to 27.3 million between 2001 and 2011. In 2001 there were on average 11 cars per 10 households whereas in 2011 there were 12 cars per 10 households. The proportion of households with access to no cars or one car declined over the decade whereas the proportion with two or more cars rose. London was the only region where the number of cars and vans was lower than the number of households
• In 2011 there were more people with Level 4 or above qualifications, eg Bachelor’s degree (27%, 12.4 million), than people with no qualifications (23%, 10.3 million)

This is not the first release from this census: we have already had population by place and sex, second home ownership and year of birth. So far we have learnt much more about England & Wales than we knew before, including:

• There were 27.6m men and 28.5m women in England and Wales
• The population has grown by 3.7m in the 10 years since the last census, rising from 52.4m in 2001 – an increase of 7.1%. This was the largest growth in the population in England and Wales in any 10-year period since the census taking began, in 1801. Between 1991 and 2001 it had gone up by 1.6m
• The average population density was 371 people per square kilometre; however in London this figure was 5,200. If the London figures were excluded, the average population density for the rest of England and Wales was 321 people per square kilometre
• Cornwall was the local authority where the greatest number of people recorded a second address. 22,997 people, usually resident elsewhere in England and Wales had a second address there which they used for 30 days or more each year

For everyone who’s about to ask ‘where is Scotland/Northern Ireland’? The data is collected separately and published at different times. Scotland comes out next week – and Northern Ireland does come out today, so we will look at collating that data too when we have it. Anyone who is wondering why each nation bothers to record the data separately, should check out this post on how devolution is killing national data in the UK.

What is the census actually for? It’s part of the fabric of British government funding. The Department for Communities and Local Government bases its funding decisions on population estimates which are in turn based on the census. The Departments for Health and Education also base funding for new schools and hospitals on the census data. The ONS says it’s also seeing an increase in community groups using census data to bolstertheir own funding applications by proving that a certain group is prevalent in each area – not least because the data is available finally at very local area level. The data finds its way to Europe too, where Eurostat use it for national population figures – and the EU for regional funding of development projects.

Will there ever be another census? A research project by the ONS, Beyond 2011, is currently looking at whether the census is even necessary. In May 2010 Sir Michael Scholar, then Chair of the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office to say that:

As a Board we have been concerned about the increasing costs and difficulties of traditional Census-taking. We have therefore already instructed the ONS to work urgently on the alternatives, with the intention that the 2011 Census will be the last of its kind

Could you get the same figures from ‘administrative data’, such as council tax records or the Electoral roll, a register of patients using the NHS, Child benefit, pupils registered in schools and pension claimants data? Lisa Evans wrote that In 2001 only 1,500 households of 21,660,475 failed complete the form. Interestingly of the 1,500 people responsible for the households who did not comply only 37 were successful prosecuted with a fine of between £35 and £200 according to the Census compliance report.

But for 2011, here’s how the data breaks down:


Christianity remained the largest group; 59% (33.2 million). This is down 13 percentage points since 2001 when 72% (37.3 million). It is the only group to have experienced a decrease in numbers between 2001 and 2011 despite population growth. The second largest response category in 2011 was no religion. This increased 10 percentage points. Interestingly, Christianity is not down everywhere. Newham, Haringey, Brent, Boston and Lambeth have all shown increases in the Christian population.

Over 240,000 people highlighted an ‘other religion’ on their census form – including 176,632 Jedi Knights.


The vast majority of the population of England & Wales are white – 86%, 48.2
million, down five percentage points since 2001 (91%, 47.5 million). Wales had the largest percentage of people of White ethnic group in 2011, 96% (2.9 million). In London in 2011, 45% (3.7 million) out of 8.2 million usual residents were White British. The number of mixed people went over 1m for the first time, too.

Year of arrival

For the first time, the census asks people what year they arrived in the UK. It shows that of the 13% (7.5 million) of residents in England and Wales in 2011 who were not born in the UK, just over half (3.8 million) arrived between 2001 and 2011.

The ONS says: “This relates to higher levels of migration seen over the last decade due in part due to the accession of 10 countries into the EU in 2004. Between 2004 and 2006, 15% (1.2 million) of non UK born usual residents arrived in England and Wales, and 16% (1.2 million) arrived between 2007 and 2009. This compares with 17% (1.2 million) in the decade 1991 to 2000. Foreign born usual residents who arrived prior to 2001 will have decreased as a proportion of the total, due to mortality, onward migration or return to country of origin”

Marital status

The largest group was people who were married, at 47% (21.2 million). This was a decrease of four percentage points from the 2001 estimate of 51 per cent (21.2 million). Civil partnerships, as a new legal partnership status, were
a small proportion of the total – less than one per cent (105,000). The percentage of single (never married) people increased five percentage points from 30% (12.5 million) in 2001 to 35% (15.7 million) in 2011. The remainder of the usually resident population in 2011 was composed
of divorced (9%, 4.1 million), widowed (7%, 3.2 million), and separated (3%, 1.2 million) individuals from either opposite or same sex relationships.


27% (12.4 million) had achieved a degree or above in 2011. This was a higher percentage than those that had no qualifications; 23 per cent (10.3 million). The group who reported no qualifications includes those aged 16 and over who were still studying ie some respondents had not completed their education.


The majority, 81% (45.5 million), described themselves as being
in good or very good health. A further 13% (7.4 million) described their health as fair, and the remaining 6% (3.1 million) described their health as bad or very bad.

Property tenure

Owning with a mortgage or loan is top, followed by owned outright, renting from a private and then renting from the council, Ownership with a mortgage decreased six percentage points from 39% (8.4 million) in 2001 to 33% (7.6 million) in 2011, while ownership outright increased by two percentage points from 29% (6.4 million) in 2001 to 31% (7.2 million) in 2011. Renting from the council decreased four percentage points – reflecting the sale of council houses.

Economic activity

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Posted by admin -  at 22:05

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Certified causes of death inaccurate in fifth of cases, study suggests

Cancer and heart disease death rates may be higher than thought and lung deaths lower, according to ONS findings

The causes of death certified by doctors may be inaccurate in more than a fifth of cases, according to a study carried out for the Office of National Statistics.

Thousands more people than previously thought might be dying each year from cancer and heart and circulatory diseases such as strokes, the study suggests, while lung and other respiratory conditions might cause fewer fatalities than presently recorded in England and Wales.

The study, which took in data on 5,112 deaths in 2010 and 2011, assessed the impact that a planned new system of certifying deaths would have on causes of death reported in annual statistics. The indications are that it will be significant and will make difficult any comparisons between annual figures before and after the changes are introduced in April 2014.

The findings suggest that at present families in a significant minority of cases are not being told the correct cause of death of their loved ones. About half a million people die in the two countries each year. Cases certified by coroners – about a fifth of the total – will not be affected by the changes.

The measures are intended to improve scrutiny of doctors by new medical examiners double-checking death certificates. These are signed by relatively junior doctors with little or no training in procedures. Ministers say the changes will make determination of cause of death more robust, provide more information for bereaved families, better inform public health monitoring and help detect poor-quality care.

Doctors are expected to detail on certificates the chain of events directly leading to death, although selection of the underlying cause is made by statisticians following international rules. There is increasing concern that some medics do not provide sufficiently accurate information for this cause to be properly identified. The examiners will ensure they do.

The ONS looked at certificates before and after being checked by examiners in five pilot areas: Brighton, mid-Essex, Gloucestershire, Powys and Sheffield. It found the exact underlying cause of death was changed after scrutiny by a medical examiner in 22% of cases, and the broad category of disease as classified by the World Health Organisation was changed in 12%.

Deaths with the underlying cause of cancer rose by 1% and diseases of the circulatory system by 6%. Deaths attributed to respiratory disease decreased by 7%. In general, more conditions contributing to deaths were mentioned on certificates after scrutiny by medical examiners.

There were limitations in the small case study. Pilots tried the system in different ways, meaning statistics were not directly comparable, nor were they representative of England and Wales. The deaths checked were also heavily weighted towards hospitals, when 49% of people die elsewhere, including 22% at home, 19% in care homes and 5% in hospices. The process required doctors and examiners to discuss causes of death, and this sometimes happened before different certificates were completed by doctors and examiners.

However, the ONS said the new system was “likely to affect trends in causes of death in mortality statistics”. Its verdict comes three months after the Guardian reported on four years of figures, covering more than 8,000 certificates, from the Sheffield pilot, where inaccurate causes of death were recorded for about one in four patients and the wrong type of disease blamed in one in 10.

Cancer Research UK said 138,000 people died from cancer in England and Wales during 2010. Prof Peter Johnson, its chief clinician, said the study “emphasises the importance of obtaining accurate data about diseases and the results of treatment in the health service. It’s important to recognise that many patients – especially the elderly – have more than one medical problem at a time and it can sometimes be difficult to be entirely precise about the cause of death. But we still need to make death certificates as accurate as possible.”

Figures collected under the present regime suggest there are about 158,000 deaths from heart and circulatory diseases. By contrast, more than 67,000 people died in 2010 from respiratory diseases excluding lung cancer. Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said changes would “inevitably bring about a shift in the numbers”.

It could often be “something of a judgment call” for doctors, especially GPs, to decide cause of death without a postmortem, which families often opposed when older relatives died, he said. Certificates “are more often right than wrong but there are always going to be a few cases where (cause of death) was slightly misjudged or miscalculated”.

Richard Hubbard, medical adviser at the British Lung Foundation, said ONS data only allowed for one underlying cause of death, “which does not necessarily paint the most accurate picture”. It recorded lung cancer as a cancer rather than a respiratory disease, “which distorts the figures somewhat, given lung cancer kills more people each year than any other form of respiratory disease”, Hubbard said.

“Although the report doesn’t tell us what forms of respiratory disease or neoplasm [cancer] these cases involve, it is likely that a fair proportion of the reclassified causes of death were from pneumonia to lung cancer – both respiratory diseases in real life, but only one recorded as such in the ONS data.”

The changes are partly the result of an inquiry into how the GP Harold Shipman managed to kill a suspected 260 people without authorities detecting his actions.

The public health minister Anna Soubry said: “It’s good to see progress being made in the accuracy of information recorded on death certificates. This is not only important for families but critically it will also help local areas identify areas of need.”

The new system has been delayed twice, partly because of the controversial way it might be funded – making bereaved families pay a fee collected by councils. A consultation is expected next year. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - December 2, 2012 at 20:22

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House prices fall in October, says Land Registry

Year-on-year figure shows small increase, but regional variations increasingly mask real picture

House prices in England and Wales fell by 0.3% in October as low levels of activity continued to depress values, according to the latest edition of the Land Registry’s house price index.

The average price of a home is now £161,605, up 1.1% on October 2011. However, the headline figure masks huge regional variations: while prices in London were up by 7% year-on-year, in the north-east homes sold for 5.8% less than in 2011.

In October alone prices in the north-east dropped by 4.2% to an average of £96,061. This is still the cheapest region to buy a property in the UK, while at the other end of the spectrum London, which saw a 1% increase in values in October, now has an average house price of £364,574.

For the second month running the biggest monthly increase in October was seen in Wales, where prices jumped 1.5%. However, earlier in the year prices fell quite heavily, and the annual increase was just 1%.

Recently, the surveyors’ group Rics said its members had reported an increase in buyer inquiries in October, but demand for homes still remains well below the levels seen before the economic downturn began.

Figures from the Land Registry for August, the latest month for which full transaction data is available, showed the number of completed house sales in England and Wales reached 62,291 – the highest level in 2012 but lower than the 64,417 recorded in August 2011.

The number of properties sold for more than £1m was up by 12% on the previous year at 843.

Tracy Kellett of buying agents BDI Home Finders said the low level of transactions made it difficult to judge what was really happening.

“The general picture, though, is of a property market that is flat and under pressure,” she said. “If it weren’t for London, the average annual change in England and Wales would be a lot less than 1.1%. The capital is giving the kiss of life to the rest of the country.”

Jonathan Hopper, managing director of the property consultants Garrington, said: “The recession might be statistically over, but you wouldn’t know it to look at this data. The property market still looks fragile and unpredictable.

“Prices in the capital continue to defy both logic and gravity – and their relentless rise is the main reason the national average posted a respectable 1.1% increase in the past year.

“October traditionally shows a spike in demand as many would-be buyers are spurred into action by the thought of finding somewhere by Christmas, or at least being at the front of the queue for next year.”

Kellett added: “Barring the most sought-after properties, buyers continue to hold all the cards.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Posted by admin - November 28, 2012 at 20:44

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Labour accuses ministers of flood defence cuts

Three die in downpours and 900 homes are hit as environment secretary denies talks with insurers have stalled

The government came under increasing pressure on Monday over cuts to flood defences and its apparent impasse with the insurance industry as the number of homes and properties damaged by the deluge of the past few days approached the 1,000 mark.

Ministers were accused of cutting almost 300 flood protection schemes and put on the back foot when insurance companies claimed talks between the industry and the government had stalled, leaving 200,000 householders facing the prospect of losing cover.

By Monday night, more than 900 properties had flooded since Wednesday – more than 500 of them in south-west England, 200 in the Midlands and about 100 in Wales.

The north of England and north Wales bore the brunt of the rain on Monday. Blencathra in Cumbria saw the highest rainfall; just under 60mm fell in 24 hours.

Schools were shut, many roads blocked and trains delayed. All planned surgery was cancelled at the Friarage hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, after a stream overflowed and threatened to flood the building.

The weather throughout Britain is expected to improve on Tuesday, with only scattered showers predicted.

However, the Environment Agency stressed that the flood risk across the country remained high. It drew attention to rivers such as the Thames which take time to fill and flood after heavy rain. “Large ,slow-responding rivers will continue to rise over the next few days,” said a spokesman.

The agency is also becoming concerned about the levels of the river Severn and an emergency centre was set up on Monday night in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, a notorious spot for flooding. The colder weather could bring another hazard: icy roads.

Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, travelled to Devon to witness the damage the floods have caused. He visited Exeter and the village of Kennford, just south of Exeter, where more than a dozen homes were flooded on Saturday evening.

Kennford resident Les Seaton, 79, told how 18ins of water was flowing through his house within an hour and a half of the river bursting its banks. “It’s a bit of a shock when a fridge-freezer comes floating past,” he said. Seaton is one of the flooding victims who does not have insurance. He said his insurers told him earlier this year that they were no longer prepared to cover him. “I’ve paid my premium for years and never needed to use it,” he said. “Then, in the year when I did need it, the cover wasn’t available. It does upset me. I think the government needs to sort it out to make sure everyone can get insurance.”

After returning to London, Paterson told the Commons it had been a tragedy for those whose homes and businesses had been damaged.

He passed on his condolences to the families of the three people who have been killed in the floods – two motorists and one young homeless woman who died when a tree fell on her tent while she was sleeping in Exeter. But Paterson said that 50,000 people had been saved from flooding by recently built defences and claimed spending on flood defences was being reduced by only 6% during the whole spending round.

Paterson said it was “complete nonsense” that talks with insurers had stalled. He said there had been “most constructive and detailed discussions” and insisted the government was determined to come up with an affordable and comprehensive scheme that did not burden taxpayers.

However, the government was attacked over its handling of flood-building programmes. Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, said the city had come close to disaster because of a lack of investment in flood defences over the past 50 years.

Bradshaw also argued there was too little investment in protecting the main train line out of Devon and Cornwall. It has been blocked by floodwater and landslips and travellers have had to make do with a replacement bus service.

The shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, claimed communities hit by flooding faced “months of upheaval”, adding: “People who were cleaning up from July floods were flooded again … some people have been flooded more than once this week.”

She argued that the government had cut capital spending on flood defences by 30%. “As a result, 294 flood defences have been deferred or cancelled,” she said.

Creagh said the deal between the insurers and the government had stalled: “We were promised a deal in the spring, then by July. It is now November. What has happened? We must not have whole communities blighted. When will [the environment secretary] get a grip on this issue?”

In York, the Ouse broke its banks, engulfing buildings in the city centre. The Kings Arms pub, which famously displays a wallchart in the bar to show how submerged it has been by previous floods, was under about a metre of water.

Travellers faced miserable commutes as roads and railway lines were hit by flooding in the north of England.

Tales of rescues continued to emerge. Among the most dramatic came when a pensioner was released from his car in Northamptonshire after becoming trapped in floodwater under a railway bridge. The vehicle was almost entirely submerged when he was hauled out by emergency services.

By Monday night, there were still 200 warnings of expected flooding and 300 alerts that flooding was possible across England and Wales.

The weather caused the cancellations of horse racing meetings at Sedgfield, County Durham and Southwell, Nottinghamshire on Tuesday and at Wetherby, West Yorkshire and Fontwell, West Sussex on Wednesday.

But there was a little good news for some sports lovers: snow has fallen at the Cairngorm resort in the eastern Highlands of Scotland and there could be good skiing by the weekend. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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