Sugar Tax in the UK: Good or Bad?


The UK government has announced it will introduce a new tax on the sugary drinks industry. The idea is to tackle child obesity. Conservative governments don’t usually have much of a sweet tooth for raising taxes on anything, so they must have a pretty good reason for flirting with this sugar tax, right? That’s for you to decide, once you’ve got the facts inside you.

NHS Junior Doctors Contracts: Explained


Junior doctors have been striking a bunch this year. The Department of Health was proposing to change the working conditions 53,000 NHS junior doctors. A lot of NHS staff flat out do not want these contract changes to go through. The latest is that negotiations have ceased, and the Department of Health plans to impose the contracts whether docs like it or not.

Refugees and UK Immigration: Explained

When did the European migration crisis turn into a refugee crisis? What’s the difference, and what does it have to do with immigration?

By Bobbie Mills

Migration, what?

Whatever you think about migration, chances are you will agree that what has been happening across Europe over the past few months is a shocking mess. Over 2,500 are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean Sea since the start of 2015. Sadly, this is nothing new. The conflict in Syria mean that thousands more have judged it time to leave, adding to the 11 million already displaced in and around Syria and adding to the thousands making the journey to Europe. It would be fair to say that the situation has stepped up a bit.

If this has been going on for a while, why are we taking notice now?

In late July, a lorry strike brought Britain’s attention to a “swarm” of so-called “marauding migrants” attempting to cross through the Channel Tunnel from Calais to England.

It could be argued that calls to send in the army were a little hysterical considering that the number of migrants trying enter Britain are a fraction of those in Europe. News also came of thousands of people in Hungary demanding to get on trains to Germany. Images of bodies washed up on beaches in Turkey, especially one of a toddler, caused moral outrage and European leaders came under pressure to take in refugees.

What are the facts?

Immigration statistics on a chalkboard - Via

Immigration statistics… or should that be refugee statistics? Via Facebook

David Cameron announced on Monday that Britain will take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years.

Sound good?

Not compared with Germany. The German Vice Chancellor has said it can handle up to 500,000 asylum seekers every year for the next few years!

The cheeky twist to Britain’s response is that the people it will host will be transferred directly from the refugee camps established in Syria and the surrounding area.

What about all those migrants already in Europe? The upshot is Britain won’t be taking them.

The British government reckons that taking in people already in Europe will encourage yet more to pay smugglers and to make the dangerous journey. How will residents of Kent and Calais feel about this? The situation isn’t going away on its own.

Another reason given for not taking in people who are already in Europe is, basically, that not all of them deserve Britain’s help.

Responding to claims that Britain is a “fucking disgrace” for not taking its share of Europe’s asylum seekers, Boris Johnson makes one point plain and simple: not all of these people are genuine refugees – many are “migrants”.

So… refugees good… migrants bad?


UNHCR poster "Refugee or Migrant (C) Andrew McConnell

Choose your words with care

Hold up. What’s the difference between a “refugee” and a “migrant”?

Whether someone is considered a migrant or a refugee has massive and immediate impact on their life, and also on the countries and towns we live in.

A refugee is a specific legal category, defined by the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention as someone who:

“owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

A person is a refugee if they have been awarded refugee status by a state, or registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugees are legally entitled to a set of protections and cannot be sent back to the country they have sought refuge from. Whilst awaiting a decision on their asylum application, asylum seekers are not permitted to work in the UK and may be detained to make sure they don’t disappear. Charming.

“No universally accepted meaning.”


‘Migrant’ is a much more wishy-washy word with no universally accepted meaning. If we go with the United Nations definition like we did for our refugee definition, their recommendations on migration statistics define an international migrant as “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence.” Simples.

Yet this is not what most people think of when they hear the word “migrants”. We tend to picture a specific type of migrant – an economic migrant. Economic migrants change their country of residence for economic reasons like work and better wages.

Britain, like most rich countries, has a never-ending debate about whether this kind of immigration is good for the country.

Some reckon that letting people come is an important part of Britain. After all migrants do jobs that most UK nationals just won’t do, like fruit and flower picking bent double for long hours. They bring skills that Britain is short of, like nursing and construction. There are also people who really value diversity. These people may also reckon that the world would be better if we were able to share its resources more evenly.

Opposing these views are people who feel that, given high levels of youth employment, if the UK is lacking skills then Brits should be being trained rather than foreigners being hired in. As well as worries about migrants taking British jobs, people also fret about non-Brits living off unemployment and housing benefit. You can’t have it both ways.

Also, some people feel that the rate of UK immigration is ‘too much, too fast’ as they feel neighbourhoods have changed rapidly.

A sideline to this debate is fears over “illegal immigrants”. These are considered to be economic migrants who have entered the country without a proper visa. People who do not have permission to reside in the UK can be detained and deported.

EXPLORE: a guide to immigration in the UK

Why does the difference between ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ even matter at a time like this?


Graphic showing where Syrian Refugees are going.

Calling refugee families fleeing a civil war in Syria “migrants” could be a little unfair.

A debate on the language we use to talk about people who move from country to country has blown up out of the current migrant crisis… I mean refugee crisis… or do I mean migrant and refugee crisis?

Let’s go back to the start. All the jibber-jabber began when Al Jazeera announced it would no longer use the term ‘migrants’ to describe what was going on in the Mediterranean. ‘Migrant’ – it argued – had become a dehumanising, inaccurate term, undermining the value of the lives lost at sea:

“It is not hundreds of people who drown when a boat goes down in the Mediterranean, nor even hundreds of refugees. It is hundreds of migrants. It is not a person – like you, filled with thoughts and history and hopes – who is on the tracks delaying a train. It is a migrant. A nuisance.”

‘Refugee’ became the choice replacement – because the majority of the people at the borders are escaping war and persecution.

This was received really, really well. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) circulated the graphic pictured above and a petition requesting the BBC to use the “correct” term for the refugee crisis gained nearly 75,000 signatures.

Here is how these groups are distinguishing migrants from refugees:

“All the prominent English language dictionaries define a migrant as someone who moves from one country to another in search of work and better living standards. A refugee, on the other hand, is defined as someone who is forced to leave their country in order to escape war and persecution.”

The difference rides on people choosing to move, and people being forced to move.

The problem: the difference between the two is not as straightforward as all these articles suggest. It’s the total opposite of straightforward. We had better do some explaining;

Who the hell do they think they are?

Refugee crisis: a sign says "Seeking asylum is a human right"?

If true, why do we demonize those attempting to get into the country?

The million dollar question: who can really tell the difference between force and choice?

Research tells us there is little difference between the people who apply for asylum and those who do not. When someone leaves their home, is it because of corruption and violence or because they’ve been unable to find work? Aren’t the two connected? If it were you would you feel you had any choice in the matter?

No one wants to undermine the troubles of people leaving Syria; some would argue we shouldn’t undermine the problems of other migrants, either.

The petitions have got one thing right, the word ‘migrant’ certainly is dehumanising. However, insisting on calling them ‘refugees’ instead does not solve the problem. This is because it accepts the worthlessness attached to the lives of ‘migrants’, arguing that ‘refugees’ are a fundamentally different kind of people who are more worthy of help and compassion.

As Professor Jørgen Carling argues:

When people drown at sea or suffocate in lorries, our first question should not be ‘so, which kind were they, refugees or migrants?’”

At Scenes of Reason, we reckon there is one thing missing from this debate: how do these people who are moving actually want to be seen? Who do they think they are, and who do they want to be?

Our media has given us the idea that everyone arriving in Europe would like to qualify as a refugee. But there are accounts (read page 66) of the shame that some people feel on becoming refugees. This is understandable – no one likes to be a burden on anyone else. Rather than the protection afforded by refugee status, some people would prefer a work permit and the opportunity to make their own way. What do you think? Beggars can’t be choosers?

Neither ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’ are perfect as labels. The resounding message from people interviewed in camps is that they are people too. So, why not just call them people?

Explore: Why are these refugees all hench lads with iPads? What should a refugee look like?

Migrants, good or bad? Are we asking the wrong question?

The refugee crisis ... explained with a Nicholas Cage gif. Sometimes there are no answers.

Nuff said.

This is a bit like the question ‘Nicolas Cage, good or bad?’ No one knows the answer because there isn’t one!!!

The debate on immigration has been going on pretty much the same way since forever. Have a read of Enoch Powell’s famous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech – delivered to a Conservative Association meeting in 1968 – to get an idea of just how much the debate in Britain has changed since then (hint: it hasn’t changed much).

It can always be argued that migration is good in some ways, bad in others. It may seem like a cop-out not to be getting down and dirty with the evidence for and against.  Yet there is so much contradictory evidence out there that we begin to wonder: are we asking the wrong question?

Migration is neither fundamentally good nor fundamentally bad. It is normal and is not going to go away. The question that needs asking is how it is managed. This involves a lot of difficulties, like concerns about integration.

However, the bottom line is:  the current ‘keep-them-out’ tactic is causing deaths.

What has this got to do with what is happening now with the refugee crisis?

Graphic outlining refugee deaths in the Mediterranean. Refugees are crossing from Syria and Iraq to Turkey.

Can you see the pattern? Via

Issuing key guidelines for dealing with what is happening in Europe right now, UNHCR chief António Guterres encouraged a common strategy but ultimately warned that “none of these efforts will be effective without opening up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe”.

This involves expanding visa programmes, scholarships and all other ways to migrate legally outside of the refugee system. This, he says, will “reduce the number of those who are forced to risk their lives at sea for lack of alternative options.”

Who is right?

Boris Johnson, who says that “the first step to finding a constructive way forward” is “recognising that not all migrants are refugees”, or UNHCR chief Guterres, who reckons that solving the current crisis cannot be done without opening up borders to more legal migrants?

You decide.

Refugees Crisis Explained: the difference between “migrants” and “refugees” is not as straightforward as we think.

We’re now analysing the language we use to describe people who move from country to country. Should we have started doing that a long time ago? Should we think of the current refugee crisis as part of a much bigger, longer conversation on migration?

Bobbie has just finished an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. She writes on politics, the media and migration and lives in North London @MsBobbieMills

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We already have a Seven Day NHS, so what is going to change?

David Cameron has announced that he will push on with his key promise to create a Seven Day NHS. But what does this actually mean for the National Health Service?


How does the NHS work now?

Seven Day NHS - A doctor shrugs and looks at the ceiling. From the hit show "Scrubs"

Seven Day NHS: Do we need it?

At the moment vital services in hospitals such as accident and emergency, ambulances and emergency surgery are available seven days a week. Some GP practices also run an out-of-hours service. SO BEFORE WE GO ON, THE NHS DOES ALREADY RUN FOR SEVEN DAYS.

But out-patient care (which is medical care which does not require an overnight stay), routine non-urgent surgery and GP visits are mostly ran on a Monday-Friday basis.

Hospitals have less senior doctors and staff in at the weekend. Recent research shows that death rates for patients admitted to hospitals over the weekend are 16% higher than if you come in during the week.

SO, 7.5 million people in the UK do have access to their GP seven-days a week and the newly elected Conservative Party want to increase this to include the whole country by 2020.


How will it work under  the new plans?

Seven Day NHS - a women sits in front of a computer. Her email pops up and she falls off her chair

Seven Day NHS: David Cameron thinks we need to use technology to reduce waste

Very simply: GP surgeries across the country would be open at the weekend. In hospitals all the routine services and care which is currently Monday-Friday only will be available over the weekend.

The government plans to hire 5,000 more GPs to help cover the extra hours.

They will continue streamlining the NHS to make sure it runs efficiently. For example: In the past GPs had to give a ten minute slot for each patient, even if the diagnosis didn’t need that amount of time.

The government removed this rule in 2013 allowing GPs more flexibility over how they organise their appointments.


Government ministers are also considering removing an “opt-out” agreement that means that hospital consultant doctors don’t have to perform “non-emergency” work during the weekend. They thing removing this would improve weekend care as it would mean patients wouldn’t have as long to wait for routine surgery.

David Cameron also wants to look at how people get seen. Patients should be able to get medical advice via Skype or email – cutting down on wasted time.

What’s next: tweeting what’s wrong with us perhaps? @theNHS #myheadhurts


What are the Pros and Cons?


– Hopefully fewer people dying, and equal quality of care whatever day you go to hospital.

– Reducing the chaos on Monday mornings when NHS staff struggle to keep up with a back-log of work from over the weekend. It would also mean better quality of life as people won’t have to wait for as long for routine or minor surgery.

– This is the first step towards a 24 hours health service – also improving people’s quality of life.

– Continuing to look at where the NHS isn’t working – and improving the service so that patients and staff can benefit.



Seven Day NHS - a monkey with a nurses hat on picks at the head of a second monkey

Seven Day NHS: Will the Nurses go on strike?

– The NHS costs money. Big money. And right now we don’t even know how much these new services will cost, let alone how it will be funded. Research in the past few years has shown the NHS will need an extra £30 billion to keep services at their present level. At the moment the Conservatives have promised to spend an extra £8 billion on the NHS from now until 2020. The other £22 billion will be found through efficiency saving.

– The NHS has been missing targets for a while now – last winter the Accident and Emergency targets were missed every week. 95% of patients are meant to be seen in four hours – but 63 out of 140 NHS trusts missed that target every week. So if even more hours of work are added in this could just lead to more missed targets.

-Workers are worried the new system will just lead to wage cuts as the government struggles to find the cash. The Royal College of Nurses has said it would consider strike action – something they have never done before.

– Some have accused the Prime Minister of political point scoring. In the run up to the election the “Seven Day NHS” was a big Conservative pledge. At the time senior doctors asked where the money was going to come from and asked why a fully costed plan had not been released. They said his plans were all talk designed to win votes. If so, it obviously worked.


What do Doctors think?

Quite a lot seem to think the government, especially Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is portraying them as lazy. After Hunt announced that plans for a 7-day NHS will include weekend-working contracts the hashtag #I’mInWorkJeremy went viral online.

Hundreds of medical staff shared pictures of themselves at work. They also wrote messages about the pressure they face working in the NHS.

“Are you at work this weekend Jeremy? Because I am. Thank you for making out that we’re lazy, money-grabbing Doctors who don’t want to work long hours, especially at the weekend. Despite being employed part time (I have a 9 month old son at home), I’ll have worked over 60 hours this week. We, Jeremy, are the people skipping lunch so we can make sure our patients’ paperwork is done so they can go home on time. We’re the people missing family birthdays, our friends’ weddings, our children’s first steps, because we’re putting our patients’ needs first. We are the people that don’t see our own families anywhere near as much as we’d like to, because we’re busy taking care of yours.” – Laura Land, doctor from Telford

Being a politician, Hunt then tried to get involved. His #I’mInWork photo backfired when people noticed that the picture accidentally revealed confidential patient information. One NHS worker commented that if they had made the same mistake they would probably have been fired. Nice try, Jezza.


What the experts say:

Professor Chris Ham from health charity The King’s Fund says that a 7 day NHS is “the right thing to do” but that the £8 billion spending will  “be welcomed, but that will really help to keep existing services running, it won’t fund all the new commitments we’ve heard of during the election campaign, including seven-day working.”

Now several health service experts at the Royal College of GPs say that implementing the 7 day NHS is “unachievable”. Doesn’t sound too promising.

They say that adding more doctors will not solve the problem, as the NHS is already understaffed. They’ve also warned that bringing in a 7 day NHS without solving the other problems could risk destabilising other parts of the health service. Yikes!


Seven Day NHS Decoded: Cameron promised it, he’s now re-promised it – but we still don’t know how he’s going to make it happen.

Should the government concentrate on making the current NHS work properly before extending opening hours? The trouble is that Davis Cameron promised the 7 day NHS in his first speech after re-election. He’d look pretty silly if the government changes its mind now.


Seven Day NHS: British Prime Minister David Cameron puts a hand over his face

Seven Day NHS: Will David Cameron make it work?


2015 Green Party Manifesto Explained in 6 Minutes

The Green Party have just released their manifesto for 2015. So what do you need to know?

In a nutshell: out with the old and in with the Green.

That means: Heal the planet, have a more equal and just society, and definitely a more democratic government.

Sound interesting? Read on…



  • Invest in an £85billion public programme of renewable electricity generation, flood defences and building insulation. They mean business. Renewable business. Why? Because of Climate Change of course!
  • Cut emissions by providing cheaper public transport and encouraging cycling and walking. That means a 10% cut in ticket prices for public transport.
  • And all rail to be owned by the public too.
  • Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. Get it?
  • Organic lovers: Greens will majorly reduce the use of pesticides and prioritise non-chemical farming methods. How? Education, education, education! Oh and new legislation, schemes and general support for organic farming.
  • Aim to have everyone living a 5 minute walk away from a green open space.



  • Factories will have to label their meat and dairy products to show the method of production and slaughter, and stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming. Oh and mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses – does this mean more vegetarians? Maybe.
  • Eating Foie Gras is out. Lucky duckies.
  • Honey honey: Help bees, yes, bees, by reducing pesticide use and help preserve and create bee habitats. Bees will be a priority species. Those bees be lucky.
  • You can no longer clone farm animals – did anyone know that you could!?
  • All you people with primates as household pets, you can’t have them any more. Soz.
  • Good time to be a dog: ban on dog fighting, all breeders will have to be properly licensed, an end to puppy farming, and no more horrible training aids like electric shock collars – that can’t be fun.
  • No more animals in the circus and a full review of horse racing and jockeys can’t use whips any more.
  • Ban all hunting of animals whether it be sport or for pleasure and generally work for the protection of all endangered animals locally and internationally, especially whales and dolphins coz they’re just great.



  • Insulation programme: insulate 9 million homes and take at least 2 million homes out of fuel poverty where households cannot afford to heat their homes due to current costs. This will cost £45billion over the five year Parliament and create 100,000 jobs.
  • Tenants will have the right to make landlords implement the same improvements to the energy performance of their home.
  • Always, ALWAYS say no to fracking.
  • Solar panels: everywhere.



  • No privatisation whatsoever, seriously, none.
  • Immediately increase the NHS budget by £12billion a year.
  • Increase the investment on mental health and make it as important as physical health: totally equal.
  • Free social care and proper funding for the elderly, and also combat the loneliness of the elderly – tinder?
  • Treat drug addiction as a health problem rather than a crime.
  • Introduce presumed consent for organ donors, giving relatives the opportunity and respect to then refuse it and introduce assisted suicide under strict, carefully thought through and well-monitored circumstances.



  • End SATs (Standard Assessment Tests), no more league tables and no more academies.
  • End university tuition fees for undergraduates and cancel student debt. That’s right: cancel student debt. Wowzers.
  • Encourage children to be involved with growing and cooking food – very Jamie Oliver. The Greens also want to introduce lessons on HIV, sex and relationships but let’s hope all these lessons won’t be together.
  • Have class sizes of 20, costing £1.5billion over 5 year Parliament.
  • Compulsory education begins at 7 years old – not 5 years old as it stands.
  • Private schools are not charities! Remove charitable status and ensure no schools are run for profit.
  • Phase out public funding for religious schools and restore Education Maintenance Allowance for those 16-19 year olds in sixth form, college and further education who need the financial help in order to attend.



  • 500,000 new social homes for rent over next five years, control excessive rents and have some stability with house prices.
  • Scrap the Conservative’s Help To Buy scheme that is meant to help people buy their first home by lowering the initial deposit.
  • Abolish the bedroom tax and keep housing benefit for under 25s.



  • Make the minimum wage a living wage of £10 per hour by 2020, and the highest wage in any organisation no more than ten times the lowest wage.
  • Public spending will account for almost half of the national income.
  • With all the changes in the Green manifesto, over 1 million jobs will be created.
  • Double child benefit.


Facts About Child Benefit

As it stands: Facts about child benefit. The Green Party plans to double this amount.




  • Equality and diversity lessons in all schools from first year of primary school.
  • Enforce penalties against employers who continue to implement unequal pay, and basically make equal pay for men and women a reality.
  • It will be illegal to ask mothers to stop breastfeeding in public.
  • Increase the budget for people living with disabilities by around £1billion a year.
  • Increase Carer’s Allowance by 50% – currently £62.10 a week.



  • 16 and 17 year olds you have the vote!
  • Age of criminal responsibility will be 14 not 10 years old.
  • Free local public transport for young people.
  • End exploitation of interns, so you don’t work for free for longer than 4 weeks.
  • Provide emergency shelter for up to 200,000 young people every year.



  • Introduce a written constitution – so people know where they stand, know their rights and it’s all written down and legit.
  • Introducing: Proportional Representation. A different voting system to the one we use at the moment called First Past The Post. Funnily enough, P.R means the number of votes a party receives will be directly proportionate to the number of seats a party gains. Countries such as Israel use P.R.
  • Introduce an elected House of Lords.


  • Increase government arts spending by £500million a year.
  • Abolish the TV license. Watch Scenes of Reason instead.


TV License is £145.50 Per Year

As it stands: TV license – The Green Party plans to abolish the BBC’s enforced TV license.




  • Increase taxes on alcohol and tobacco.
  • No more tax avoiders/evaders. How many times can Barlow and Carr be warned?
  • Higher council tax for more expensive homes.
  • Introduce a wealth tax of 2% a year on the top 1% in society. Damn it.
  • Have a Robin Hood Tax of 0.05% on the banks and their financial transactions such as stocks, bonds, foreign currencies. It even has its own website.
  • Increase corporation tax from 20% to 30%
  • Raise top rate of tax to 60% for people earning over £150,000 – it’s currently 45%.


Current Tax Rates UK

As it stands: Tax – The Green Party plans to raise tax for the rich significantly.



Nice thoughts. Great sentiment. Achievable?





For the full Green Party manifesto click here.


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What else do you feel the Greens aren’t quite covering? Let us know in the comment box below.