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Britain should install an Israeli-style “iron dome” missile defence system, Penny Mordaunt has suggested, in an unusual intervention highlighting concerns within the government about the increasingly unstable geopolitical landscape.

Ms Mordaunt, the House of Commons leader and a former Royal Navy reservist, again called for an increase in defence spending, saying the government has a “duty to our citizens” to keep them protected as the world becomes less safe.

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The UK currently spends just over 2 per cent of GDP on defence, but there are growing calls for this to be increased to at least 2.5 per cent, with some figures pushing for as much as 3 per cent.

Writing for The Sunday Telegraph, in a piece that could be interpreted as a pitch for the future leadership of her party, Ms Mordaunt said the UK must be more ambitious about the amount of resources it puts into defence.

“To those that say, about our defence ambitions, we ‘can’t do’, ‘shouldn’t do’, or ‘can’t afford to do’, I say ‘Look to Israel’ – a nation a fraction of our size that has staved off an attack from a nation 10 times its size,” she told the paper.

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The Iron Dome system, developed with backing from the US, specialises in shooting down short-range rockets. It has intercepted a vast number of rockets since it was activated early in the last decade – including thousands during the current war against Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel says it has a success rate of over 90 per cent.

The Iron Dome is supported by the Arrow system, which is designed to intercept long-range missiles including the types of ballistic missiles Iran said it had launched against Israel.

The defence system is extremely expensive to maintain and operate. Reem Aminoach, a former brigadier general and chief financial adviser to the head of the Israeli military, told Bloomberg that it would have cost Israel around $1bn (£808m) to thwart Iran’s attack, with some interceptor missiles costing $3.5m (£2.8m) alone.

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The former Tory MP Mark Menzies is quitting parliament after allegations that he misused campaign funds.

The MP for Fylde announced that he would not stand at the next election after the allegations were referred to Lancashire police.

The Conservative party said that an internal investigation could not conclude there had been a misuse of party funds. However, it said that Menzies had demonstrated a “pattern of behaviour” that fell below the standards expected of MP.

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The Fylde MP resigned the Conservative whip and was suspended as a government trade envoy after the Times published allegations he had used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off “bad people” who had locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release. He denied the allegations.

Menzies’ former campaign manager, who allegedly received a late-night phone call from him asking for cash, has said she felt “let down” by the party after she raised concerns with the chief whip, Simon Hart, in January.

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A Conservative party spokesperson said: “The money in question that was sent to Mark Menzies MP was signed off by the two signatories of Fylde Westminster Group. This body sits outside of the remit of both the Conservative party and Fylde Conservative Association. Therefore we cannot conclude that there has been a misuse of Conservative party funds.

“However, we do believe that there has been a pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs and individuals looking after donations to local campaign funds which lie outside the direct jurisdiction of the Conservative party.

“We will therefore be commencing with retraining individuals across the party on how to manage these accounts which fall outside of the remit of the Conservative Party and are introducing a whistleblowing helpline.

“Furthermore, whilst outside of the initial scope of this investigation, there has also been a recommendation that the actions of the MP in question have also potentially breached the Nolan principals of public life.

“This is due to the nature of the allegations made, but also the repetitive nature of these separate allegations. These will be reviewed by the Conservative party’s member governance team.

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Labour is to wage a new campaign to win over Tory-supporting pensioners in an attempt to neutralise one of the government’s last remaining electoral strengths, amid evidence the Conservatives are now performing as badly among the age group as they did under Liz Truss’s leadership.

With less than a fortnight to go until local elections in England, which some Tories fear could trigger an attempt to topple Rishi Sunak, the Observer understands that Keir Starmer’s top officials are reorienting their campaign after detecting alarm among pensioners over the impact a Conservative tax-cutting pledge could have on pensions and the NHS.

The shift, which will include a national media and targeted digital advertising blitz from this weekend, follows the decision by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to signal the eventual abolition of employee national insurance contributions, a move Labour claims would cost about £46bn a year.

A private focus group run by Labour in the past week convinced its most senior officials that the announcement by Hunt is a huge blunder. Insiders said that “pensioner hero voters” – those who backed the Tories last time but who may switch to Labour – compared the move to Truss’s doomed plan for £45bn in unfunded tax cuts during her brief prime ministership.

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The Conservative MP under fire for his ancestors’ role in Caribbean slavery is in line for a multimillion-pound payout from the Barbados government.

Despite threats to make Richard Drax pay reparations and seize his family’s plantation – described by one historian as a “killing field” of enslaved Africans – the government is now planning to pay market value for 21 hectares (about 15 football pitches) of his land for housing.

The move has angered many Barbadians, especially those who say the Drax family played a pivotal role in the development of slavery-based sugar production and the Barbados slave code in the 17th century. This denied Black Africans basic human rights, including the right to life.

Critics have called the planned deal an “atrocity” and said this is “one plantation that the government should not be paying a cent for”.

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Drax is one of the wealthiest MPs and is worth at least £150m.

Historian Prof Sir Hilary Beckles has described Drax Hall as a “crime scene” where tens of thousands of Africans died in terrible conditions. The Draxes also owned a slave plantation in Jamaica, which they sold in the 18th century, and at least two ships that brought enslaved Africans to the Caribbean.

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Emergency Social Security Campaigns Meeting
Sunday 21 April 2024 3 – 4.30pm

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/88958156364?pwd=ah3dyMFY3y20G1HajLzZaLNVa3wKag.1

Meeting ID: 889 5815 6364
Passcode: 069808

We have called this meeting to bring together all those worried by and/or wanting to fight back against the Tories’ current all out assault on Disabled people, culminating in Rishi Sunak’s announcement today with plans to cut access to social security for millions of people.

For anyone who is worried, please remember that some of these changes may take time to roll out and others will only affect new claimants not existing ones.

For accurate information on what the key changes announced this week are see:

Tory plans: PIP no longer always cash, WCA harder to pass, UC migration sooner, no GP sick notes, DWP power to arrest and fine (benefitsandwork.co.uk)

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Lancashire Police are reviewing the available information" after receiving a letter "detailing concerns around this matter", the force said.

Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds is understood to have written to police calling for an investigation into the allegations.

Mr Menzies lost the Conservative whip and was suspended as one of Rishi Sunak's trade envoys after the Times published claims he had used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off "bad people" who had locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release.

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NEW analysis has found that over £23 billion worth of welfare benefits went unclaimed in the last year.

The report, by Policy in Practice, found that the number had risen from £19bn the year before and that figures could be closer to £30bn if it were to analyse disability benefits and discretionary support.

Universal credit is the most unclaimed benefit at £8.3bn, with an estimated 1.4 million missing out on this type of support.

This is followed by carer’s allowance (£2.3bn), pension credit (£2.2 bn) and child benefit (£1.7 bn).

The analysis said that most claimants are simply unaware that certain benefits exist and cited navigating complex criteria as a serious barrier.

The report comes as household debt rises to £8.8bn a year.

Policy in Practice managing director Jade Alsop said: "Our findings show that as a society, we can’t afford not to consider these measures to prevent further costs to our health, education and social care services.

“It is estimated that, by improving pension credit take-up alone, the cost of social care will decrease by £4bn a year.”

Claire Atchia McMaster, director of income and external affairs at anti-poverty charity Turn2Us, said that feedback they receive indicates that accessing benefits is “complicated, inaccessible and emotionally draining.”

She said: “This complexity prevents millions from claiming vital support, exacerbating financial insecurity and impacting wellbeing.”

Ms McMaster called for clearer action from the government to ensure support reaches everyone who needs it.

Benefit calculators can be accessed on the Turn2Us and Policy in Practice websites.

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Labour has said it has "no plans for a youth mobility scheme" if it wins the general election later this year.

I wish Labour would have a backbone and stand up to the hard left of their voter base and out right reject this Brexit narrative. Sigh.... Not in my lifetime sadly. The two main parties are Brexit parties - one overtly, one covertly.

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Minister told London conference that Glorious Revolution of 1688 paved way for economic certainty

It would be wrong to attribute the UK’s wealth and economic success to its colonial history or racial privilege, the business and trade minister, Kemi Badenoch, has told an audience in the City.

Addressing financial services bosses at TheCityUK’s international conference in London, the business secretary said the UK’s past exploitation and oppression of other countries and groups of people could not sufficiently explain the country’s economic trajectory.

Badenoch said: “It worries me when I hear people talk about wealth and success in the UK as being down to colonialism or imperialism or white privilege or whatever.”

Instead, she said the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – which led to the development of the UK constitution and solidified the role of parliament – should be credited for providing the kind of economic certainty that paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.

Any other interpretation could derail efforts to increase growth at home and abroad, Badenoch said.

“It matters, because if people genuinely believe that the UK only grew and developed into an advanced economy because of exploitation and oppression, then the solutions they will devise will make our growth and productivity problem even worse,” she said.

“It matters in other countries too, because if developing nations do not understand how the west became rich, they cannot follow in its footsteps.

“And it matters when, as your trade secretary, I go to the World Trade Organization conference negotiating on the UK’s behalf, and some of my counterparts spend the entire time in meetings talking about colonialism, blame the west for their economic difficulties, and make demands that would make all of us – not just in this country, but around the world – poorer.”

Her comments come nearly a year after the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, refused to apologise for the UK’s role in the slave trade or to commit to paying reparations.

That was despite descendants of some of Britain’s wealthiest enslavers calling on the government to apologise for slavery and begin a programme of reparative justice in light of the “ongoing consequences of this crime against humanity”.

“Its after-effects still harm people’s lives in Britain, as well as in the Caribbean countries where our ancestors made money,” a member of the Heirs of Slavery campaign group said.

A report published by the University of the West Indies last June concluded that the UK alone owed $24tn (£18.8tn) in reparations for transatlantic slavery in 14 countries, including $9.6tn to Jamaica. The report used calculations made by the Brattle Group, which factored in the wealth and GDP amassed by countries that enslaved African people.

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Demand for private treatment booms as NHS waiting lists remain long, while more people also sign up for dental cover

Britain’s health cover market has grown by £385m in a year as the NHS crisis prompted more people to seek out private medical treatment and demand for dental insurance increased, according to a report.

The total health cover market, including medical and dental insurance and cash plans, grew 6.1% to £6.7bn in 2022, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the health data provider LaingBuisson.

About 4.2 million people were subscribed to medical cover schemes. Including dependants on the policies, 7.3 million people were covered – the highest number since 2008.

Since the market’s Covid-driven drop in 2020, when it declined by 2.2%, it has grown considerably faster than historical norms. Average annual growth was 6.1% between 2020 and 2022, compared with 1.7% between 2008 and 2019.

The NHS waiting list in England continued to lengthen, to a peak of nearly 7.8m last September. In February, it was still 7.5m and half of the patients had been waiting for 18 weeks or longer.

Private medical insurance, the largest part of the health cover market, grew by 6% year on year in 2022 to £5.3bn, more than triple the average annual growth rate of 1.8% between 2008 and 2019. After a decade of decline until 2018, more people signed up, particularly in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to a backlog of major procedures such as hip and knee replacements.

Tim Read, author of the report, said: “Demand began to increase in 2018, as the NHS waiting list began to rise out of control. A new Labour government is likely to aim to tackle it but will have limited fiscal headroom to make substantial progress.

“With people still struggling to access NHS services and the waiting list remaining stubbornly high, there is little likelihood that demand for health insurance is going to fall any time soon.”

Read added: “Growth is led by company-backed schemes, which may suggest an increased awareness of the impact of employee ill-health on a business – and possibly frustration at the impact that an inaccessible NHS is having on productivity.”

Growing numbers of people are also paying out of their own pockets for medical treatment, despite the high cost of some procedures, such as knee operations which typically cost between £12,000 and £15,000.

Dental insurance and capitation plans (fixed monthly payments) have shown the highest growth of the market, up 9.7% year on year in 2022. However, most people who see a dentist privately pay for treatment without any cover.

The emergence of “dental deserts” – swathes of the UK where NHS dentists are not taking on new patients – means hundreds of thousands of people have turned up in hospitals or at GPs with severe tooth decay.

The average health insurance premium went up to £1,225 in 2022 from £1,203 in 2021, according to LaingBuisson. Premiums on work policies went up to £975, while individual premiums rose to £2,252.

Insurers have flagged premium rises of more than 10%, with one placing them as high as 40% this year and possibly beyond. This reflects a rise in claims and higher medical costs. Some people who could not get what would have been a cheaper treatment option during the pandemic are now suffering from more expensive conditions to treat, Read said.

The UK health insurance market is dominated by Bupa, France’s Axa Health, Aviva and Vitality Health, which is owned by South Africa’s Discovery.

In dental insurance, the main players are Bupa, Simply Health and Unum, after Cigna left the UK market.

Read said: “I don’t think that the NHS is going to fall apart overnight or that the private sector is going to run rampant overnight. But I do think as people as customers, rather than people as taxpayers, are beginning to reconceptualise the value of paying additionally for healthcare entitlements, which technically they should get on the NHS.”

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There were 830,000 unwanted moves in England over the past 12 months, meaning 40% have been forced to relocate

Unwanted home moves cost renters more than half a billion pounds a year, with tenants coughing up an average of £669 every time they are forced by landlords to leave their home, a survey has revealed.

Analysis by the homelessness charity Shelter estimated that there had been 830,000 unwanted moves in England over the past 12 months, meaning 40% of renters who move house are doing so because they have been compelled to look for other accommodation.

An unwanted move is defined as a fixed-term tenancy coming to an end, or tenants being priced out by a rent increase, being served an eviction notice or being informally asked to leave by the landlord.

Renters collectively spend £550m a year on moving costs, often paying rent and bills on two properties during the moving period, along with hiring removal vans, paying for stopgap storage and buying new furniture, Shelter estimates.

Natalie, 47, has moved 12 times in the past 21 years, and has been served with two no-fault evictions in the past 18 months. Although she has been in her new home for seven months, she still cannot relax and feels traumatised by her moving experiences. “I haven’t even unpacked properly,” she said. “I’m worried that as soon as I do, I’m going to have to move again.

“I’ve downsized to a studio. Most of my stuff is stored in a garage nearby that I’m renting for £75 and I had to shell out £750 on removal van hire alone. It took me 18 months just to pay back all the debts accrued from the last move, and then it happened all over again.

“There is nothing worse than being forced to move home,” she added. “Without a stable foundation, how can you lead a fruitful life?”

“This is money that renters will never see again,” said Tarun Bhakta, policy manager for Shelter. “It’s not a deposit that you may or may not get back at the end of your tenancy, it’s not money for your rental, it’s simply costs down the drain. Money for a removal van, for packing boxes, for new furniture; these are avoidable expenses that tenants are having to make against their will.

“Because of an abnormally and unreasonably unstable rental system, tenants are having to cough up millions and millions of pounds each year in moves that could otherwise be avoided, if the government had a backbone and delivered a strong, watertight renters’ reform bill.”

In April, the government signalled that it would make amendments to the long awaited bill, delaying the ban on section 21 evictions – the two-month notice, “no fault” compulsory orders to leave the property – and reneging on the promise to overhaul fixed-term tenancies.

New figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that average rents have increased by £107 a month nationally, and by £207 a month in London over the past year.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “Tenants are coughing up millions in unwanted and unwarranted moves, while the government runs scared of a minority of its own MPs. Instead of striking dodgy deals with backbenchers to strangle the renters’ reform bill, ministers should defend renters’ best hope of a stable home.

“With protections from eviction so weak and rents so high, we constantly hear from people forced out of their homes and communities at huge personal cost. It’s impossible for renters to put down roots knowing a no-fault eviction could plunge them back into chaos at any moment.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “The renters (reform) bill will deliver the manifesto commitment to abolish section 21 evictions. It will be returning to the House of Commons shortly.”

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Officials at Department for Work and Pensions accused of ‘threatening and cruel’ tactics over repayment orders

Government officials have been accused of using “threatening and cruel” tactics towards unpaid carers by saying they could face even greater financial penalties if they appeal against “vindictive” benefit fines.

This month a Guardian investigation revealed that thousands of people who look after disabled, frail or ill relatives have been forced to pay back huge sums after being chased by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over “honest mistakes” that officials could have spotted years earlier.

Dozens of unpaid carers have said they feel powerless to challenge the penalties, which often run into many thousands of pounds, even when the government is at fault.

Now the Guardian has learned that the DWP is warning carers that their fine may increase if they appeal against a repayment order.

In one letter in June 2023, the government department said that if the unpaid carer challenged the order “the entire claim from the date it started will be looked at, which could potentially result in the overpayment increasing, if there are more periods where your earnings exceeded the allowable limits”.

This carer, whose husband has dementia and Parkinson’s, had been ordered to repay nearly £4,000 for unwittingly exceeding the weekly earnings threshold of £151 by calculating her zero-hours job on a monthly basis – as she believed the rules required – rather than on a four-weekly basis.

The former council worker said the penalty had “destroyed” her confidence and left her feeling unable to challenge the DWP. “I can’t afford this bill but I can’t afford to argue with them because if I do I’ve made these mistakes already, chances are I’ve made other mistakes,” she said.

Cristina Odone, head of family policy at the centre-right thinktank the Centre for Social Justice, described the DWP tactic as “threatening and incredibly cruel”.

She said: “Again and again, if you talk to ordinary people, the DWP raises their hackles and their fears because it is the state possibly coming to claw back benefits.

“It is the most hostile bit of the state for so many people. This just confirms their wariness of the DWP as the bit of government that is the least sympathetic, most faceless and most heartless.”

Unpaid carers are entitled to a carer’s allowance of £81.90 a week – the smallest benefit of its kind – providing they care for someone for at least 35 hours a week. They are allowed to work but must not make more than £151 a week after tax and expenses.

People who make more than the £151 weekly limit, even as little as 1p more, must pay back the entire week’s carer’s allowance for the whole period in which they were in breach of the rules, in what has been described as a “cliff edge” approach.

Tens of thousands of carers have unwittingly fallen foul of this rule and have not been alerted by the DWP until years later, even though the government has real-time technology that means it can spot and stop these infractions much sooner.

Carers have been plunged into debt, forced to sell their homes and given criminal records over what they say were “honest mistakes” that should have been spotted much sooner by the DWP.

Three former work and pensions secretaries, including Iain Duncan Smith, have called on the government to pause investigations into unpaid carers and launch a review of its failings. Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP on the Commons work and pensions committee, has called the DWP’s approach “simply vindictive”.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, a campaign group supporting unpaid carers, said the DWP’s attempt to dissuade people against appealing was “quite troubling and quite unsavoury”.

Maugham said: “Parliament has set up an appellant system to enable appeals against demands that people repay carer’s allowance. For the DWP to take steps to discourage people from using this very important safeguard is itself quite troubling.”

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said unpaid carers feel “stuck in a place where they feel unable to challenge decisions – even though they have a legal right to do so”.

The DWP said: “Carers across the UK are unsung heroes who make a huge difference to someone else’s life and we have increased carer’s allowance by almost £1,500 since 2010.

“We have safeguards in place for managing repayments, that’s why visiting officers are available to provide support and assistance to customers when attending their homes, particularly for those deemed vulnerable.

“Claimants have a responsibility to inform DWP of any changes in their circumstances that could impact their award, and it is right that we recover taxpayers’ money when this has not occurred.”

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