Look Left – Up to 10 million face starvation in Horn of Africa

Unless drastic action is taken, up to ten million people could starve to death in the Horn of Africa, with drought and war threatening millions with famine.

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• Unless drastic action is taken, up to ten million people could starve to death in the Horn of Africa.

Today’s Independent on Sunday reports that drought and war threaten millions with famine.

David Randall, Simon Murphy and Daud Yussuf report from Kenya:

“In the Horn of Africa, unseen as yet by the world’s television cameras, a pitiful trek of the hungry is taking place. Tens of thousands of children are walking for weeks across a desiccated landscape to reach refugee camps that are now overflowing.

“They are being driven there by one of the worst droughts in the region for 60 years which, combined with the war in Somalia and soaring food prices, is threatening a famine that could affect between eight and 10 million people.

“The malnourished children, some of whom become separated from their parents on the way, are now arriving at the camps in northern Kenya at a rate of 1,200 every day. At the largest, built for 90,000, there are now nearly 370,000.

“Many have covered hundreds of miles on feet that are bare and bleeding. Some reach their goal barely able to stand. Most are exhausted, and dehydrated. All are hungry.”

They add:

“The famine looms at a time when food prices have been increasing sharply for some time – and still are. Since last May, the price of maize has more than doubled in parts of Ethiopia, and that of red sorghum has risen in Somalia by 240 per cent. Even in Kenya, white maize now costs 58 per cent more than it did a year ago.

“And then there is the conflict in Somalia, which drives people to the camps and which, in much of southern and central parts of the country, severely limits humanitarian access.

“Aid workers are beginning to wonder for how much longer the camps can contain the need. Dadaab, in Kenya, originally built to accommodate 90,000, now has 367,855 refugees, making it the world’s largest refugee camp. There were plans for an extension, but the Kenyan government scotched that, and thousands now squat hopefully outside the perimeter.

“And yet still people come. The numbers arriving at Dadaab’s three camps are swelling at an alarming rate – 5,621 arrived in the last week of June compared with 1,866 in the first week of the month.

“According to the UN, more than half of the camps’ refugees are children, and 153,525 of those are under the age of 11. There are also 12,328 people over the age of 60 in the camps…”

Left Foot Forward will have more on this unfolding, hitherto unreported emergency throughout next week; to donate to the appeal, visit Save the Children, Oxfam, Care International or Cafod.

• Domestically, today’s Observer leads on the leaked letter from communities secretary Eric Pickles to David Cameron warning him of the consequences of the benefits cap.

It reports that the letter, from Pickles’s Private Secretary to the prime minister’s, says:

“…our modelling indicates that we could see an additional 20,000 homelessness acceptances as a result of the total benefit cap. This on top of the 20,000 additional acceptances already anticipated as a result of other changes to Housing Benefit.”

That’s a total of 40,000 more families homeless.

As former chair of the Local Government Association housing committee Pete Challis wrote on Left Foot Forward today:

“The latest homelessness figures (June 2011) confirm that advice. The number of homeless households is rising again. Homeless acceptances for the year 2010/11 are up 10% but for the quarter January to March 2011 they are up 18 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2010…

“Charities have warned that new limits on housing benefit, now due to start in January 2012, will leave large swaths of the capital “no-go” areas for the poor. London Councils found (pdf) that in seven of the most expensive local authority areas – Camden; the City; Hackney; Hammersmith and Fulham; Kensington and Chelsea; Tower Hamlets; and Westminster – local private rents are higher than the benefit cap throughout the borough.

“In Kensington and Chelsea, of 2,771 households currently receiving benefits to help pay private rent, 2,047 will face a shortfall – 89.7 per cent. Of those, more than 900 are either aged over 70, or have young children.

“Furthermore, research by Homes and Property suggests there are no two, three or four bedroom private rented properties available in Kensington and Chelsea at rents that would fall within the cap, with the Standard reporting “thousands of schoolchildren in parts of central London could be forced to move because of housing benefit cuts”.”

This would result in 11,800 children being forced to move school, forcing outer London boroughs to find extra primary school places. Assuming 300 children per school, if all the children are of primary school age, the equivalent of nearly 40 extra primary schools will be needed.

• Earlier this week, the big story was Thursday’s public sector strikes over pensions reform.

On Left Foot Forward, Michael Burke took on the government’s economic reasons for slashing public sector pensions, reasons that are rapidly unravelling, concluding:

“The attack on pensions is not about affordability, fairness, efficiency or savings. It is part of the drive to lower wages and deferred wages to increase the profits of the private sector.”

We also took apart some of the right wing myths about public sector pensions, namely the Telegraph’s claim teachers had a “£500,000 pension pot”.

As I wrote:

“The Daily Telegraph’s claim this morning that “a typical teacher can expect to retire with a taxpayer-funded scheme worth more than £500,000” is misleading, miscalculated and ignorant of the facts.

“The misleading half-a-million-pound “typical teacher” pension figure distorts the actual level of public sector pensions by focusing on one of the better paid groups of public sector workers and assumes 37 years’ service.

“The paper assumes a pension of £24,000 – yet the average teachers’ pension in payment is £10,000, as shown in the scheme’s Resource Accounts. Furthermore, they assume a teacher who enters teaching at 23 and retires at 60 with a final salary of £32,000 will have a pension of £24,000…

“The Telegraph article also ignores the fact that teachers’ pensions are funded on a different and more secure basis than pension backed by annuities – their comparison is made to a pension secured by private sector annuity rates. This is misleading because the state does not need to operate in the same way as a private insurance company.

“This means administrative costs are lower, there is no need to factor in a margin for profit, and by definition the Teachers’ Pensions Scheme contains long and short-lived people.”

On public attitudes to the strikes, and the ‘political game’ being played out, Daniel Elton wrote:

“Two notes of caution are needed when predicting what will happen as the dispute unfolds. Any long-running political dispute from a war down to an office feud rarely ends up being about what it started off as.

“The miners’ strike of 1984-5, for example, may have started off as a dispute about the rate of downsizing of the industry – something that had been going on fairly continuously since 1945 – but ended up being about whether coalmining should largely exist at all as an industry or, arguably, the UK’s entire economic settlement. By the end of this dispute, we may well be arguing over something other than public sector pensions, if we are not already.

“Also, while game theorists say that antagonists should avoid situations which can lead to a zero-sum game – if one party wins, the other must lose – this could end up being a minus-sum game – both sides lose.

“The government may get their way, discredit the union movement, and pave the way for a raft of anti-union legislation. But can all that can be achieved while simultaneously earning a reputation for bullying teachers and the public servants the population relies on?

“Even if the government ‘wins’ it may well ‘lose’ – and badly.”

Ed Miliband was attacked in some quarters for his decision not to support the strikes while negotiations are ongoing, the Labour leader responding online to combat his critics:

“I know that teachers and other public servants are worried about their pensions. I also know that on strike today are hard-working people, committed to the children they teach and the communities they serve. I understand their anger about the way the government has acted.

“But this does not alter my view that today’s strikes are a mistake. It is a mistake to resort to disruption at a time when negotiations are still going on. And it is a mistake not just because of the inconvenience caused but also because I firmly believe it will not help to win the argument with the public.”

Looking ahead to the future, meanwhile, Dan Whittle of Unions 21 wrote about how unions can renew their public image. His ideas include ensuring “middle aged white men in suits and ties are kept firmly in the place that reflects their minority in unions”; that unions should “perform a social media audit”; and the need to “drop the jargon”.

A publication out tomorrow will explore these ideas and more, and is being launched in Parliament tomorrow evening from 6-8pm, in the Grimond Room, Portcullis House. For more details contact Dan on [email protected].

Progressive of the week:

Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones, who voiced concern at the coalition’s welfare and economic policies, particularly on housing, telling Shelter Cymru that everyone “should have a roof over their head, warmth, food and security”, which he described as “the minimum aspiration for a developed and civilised country”.

More on Mr Jones in the Week Outside Westminster below.

Regressive of the week:

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who played to the bottom with his “British jobs for British workers” clarion call, echoing Gordon Brown’s disastrous, foolish, idiotic statement of four years ago.

Never mind the crassness of such a remark, the evidence ‘blaaady foreigners’ are taking all of ‘our’ jobs simply isn’t there, nor is there any provision legally for employers to discriminate against non-British EU nationals, should they wish to do so.

As Ruth Grove-White of the Migrants’ Rights Network and Left Foot Forward’s Declan Gaffney explained on this blog yesterday, IDS is not “daring to tell the truth”, and, like Brown, is taking the public for fools on immigration.

Evidence of the week:

Tuesday’s IPPR report on the carbon floor price, (pdf).

Report author Dominic Maxwell explained on Left Foot Forward:

“In the name of climate change, the coalition has brought in a clanger of a policy, which only serves to give green taxes a bad name. It is presented in the name of the environment – but doesn’t save one breath of carbon dioxide, as the level of the “cap” in cap-and-trade is set for Europe as a whole, not Britain alone…

“The clearest winners, in fact, are polluters in the rest of Europe, who will be able to pay less for their carbon permits, saving some £17 billion, at the expense of European governments, and green investors who rely on a high price of carbon.”

He concluded:

“With the Carbon Price Support, energy secretary Chris Huhne and treasury minister Justine Greening are not serving the environment, but undermining it.”

Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:


Labour won the Inverclyde by-election by 5,838 votes from the SNP. The Tories were third, with the Liberal Democrats a humiliating fourth place, polling only 627 votes – 2 per cent – and losing their deposit. The election was called following the tragic death of David Cairns, aged just 44.

Victorious candidate Iain McKenzie told yesterday’s Greenock Telegraph:

“I want to grow jobs from within the community, increase apprenticeships and bring new employers here. Inverclyde has a great story to tell and we are on the way up. The area has changed for the better under the leadership of the Labour-controlled council, but we must sell ourselves more…

“Inverclyde is still my home and I want to spend as much time here as I can.”

Mr McKenzie added:

“I never thought I’d be an MP. David was a well respected man and real all-round good guy, and everyone is deeply saddened by his passing. He was a major influence on me and in my approach to politics within the council, and I will look to carry on his attributes at Westminster.”

Elsewhere, newly released data revealed that the number of nurses and midwifery staff in the NHS in Scotland had fallen by just over 1% between September and March this year. Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon responded by arguing that although numbers had decreased, activity and quality had improved.

She added:

“We now have the best waiting times performance and the lowest levels of healthcare associated infection on record. When taken together these indicators suggest that our approach to quality and efficiency is beginning to deliver positive changes in our health services.”

Labour, however, weren’t quite so convinced, shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie arguing:

“The SNP said they would cut NHS managers, but it is clear from these new figures that it is frontline nurses that are being forced to bear the brunt of the SNP’s cuts – it is simply unacceptable.”

Education secretary Mike Russell, meanwhile, was busy announcing plans which could see students from outside Scotland who study at Scottish universities paying some of the highest tuition fees in the country.

He said:

“Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities. However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities.

“We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option. We also must protect places for Scottish students.”

However, the NUS were not so convinced by the minister’s argument the policy continued to demonstrate Scotland’s welcome for students from outside the country, president-elect of NUS Scotland Robin Parker arguing:

“The SNP rejected a market in tuition fees for Scottish students prior to the election, only to introduce one immediately after for students from the rest of the UK. This seems incredibly unfair, especially when the SNP have talked so much about the importance of access to university based on ability, not ability to pay.”


It was a week dominated by health stories as doctors gathered for their annual conference in Cardiff and called on the UK government’s health bill to be withdrawn altogether.

On the day the British Medical Journal called on David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley to “bury” the controversial health bill, doctors resoundingly outlined their preference for the NHS in Wales rather than England. Commenting on the survey results, Dr. Andrew Dearden, chairman of the BMA in Wales, argued:

“Doctors in Wales remain loyal to the principles set out for the NHS by Aneurin Bevan. Consecutive Welsh governments have diminished the role of the private sector from the NHS, and the purchaser/provider split no longer operates.

“This was the right decision for doctors, and the right decision for patients – meeting the needs of everyone and free at the point of delivery.”

In a speech to Shelter Cymru, meanwhile, first minister Carwyn Jones outlined his concerns at the UK government’s welfare and economic policies.

He told the charity’s summer conference:

“There is disturbing evidence that homelessness levels in Wales have increased as a result of the prolonged economic crisis. However, I believe the UK government’s regressive economic and welfare reform policies are making the situation worse.”

Mr Jones added:

“My government’s mandate commits us to building more homes to meet increasing housing need. Very simply, we need to increase the supply of homes of all types and in places people want to live.

“Decent housing is fundamental to life in Wales. Everyone in Wales should have a roof over their head, warmth, food and security. This, surely, is the minimum aspiration for a developed and civilised country.”

Northern Ireland:

In a frank interview with the Belfast Telegraph, DUP health minister, Edwin Poots, warned of thousands of job losses in the NHS across Northern Ireland.

In a warning of things to come, the minister explained:

“We have about a £177 million shortfall this year and we have identified about £100m of savings that will probably not be overly painful to bear and we are working on the other £80m.

“In terms of job losses, we will have less jobs in the department and that will probably run into thousands but we will not be having thousands of compulsory redundancies.”

Meanwhile, following recent riots in Belfast, blamed on the UVF, Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, called on the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, to return to jail all active UVF members released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Spence said:

“We cannot tolerate paramilitary groups creating public havoc because they think they have no voice in how Northern Ireland is governed. They have exactly the same access to the ballot box and opportunity to stand for election as the rest of us.”

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