The Sunday Times

Contributions to The Sunday Times can be found here.

Why is Terry Richardson, who shot Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball video, still feted by fashionistas?

Fashion silent on Terry Richardson’s foul ‘party trick’

Actress drags Disney into Weinstein scandal

Bank of Mum and Dad angers millennials forced to rent 

Rise of self-harm generation as youth cases soar

Lincolnshire has the worst record for dog theft

Michael Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution to the UK’s education crisis

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

First published by the Independent

Today’s announcement from Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon that 31 new cadet units have been approved in state schools is yet another example of the Conservative Party’s short-sighted and disingenuous approach to tackling inequality in Britain.

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

Speaking at the Albion Academy, Fallon said: “Cadets help instil values of discipline and loyalty. They develop leadership skills and confidence. For too long cadet units have been the preserve of independent schools but thanks to this Conservative Government more children in state schools will reap the benefits.”

t might be news to Fallon, but children who attend independent schools are not 2.5 times as likely to go to a top university than their state school counterparts simply because they had access to a cadet unit.

Surely if the Conservative government was truly committed to matching the advantages of a private education, the conversation would be around reducing class sizes, ensuring access to nutritious breakfasts and lunches, raising aspirations and preparing children for Russell Group universities.

In the UK, our education system is one of the most socially divided in the developed world. The reading age of children from disadvantaged backgrounds lags a shocking three years behind that of their wealthier peers. While only 7 per cent of the general population went to a private school, fee-paying school leavers are vastly overrepresented in top professions including law, politics, media and the financial sector.

Private institutions are finishing schools for our future MPs and CEOs, and while a private school education isn’t an indicator of intelligence or academic prowess, attendees are five times as likely to attend Oxbridge as those who didn’t attend a fee-paying school. And I would bet my bank balance that this isn’t because they can enjoy a weekend of mountain biking or archery with their cadet unit.

As more middle class parents decide that local state schools are “undesirable” after poor Ofsted results, (Ofsted is a highly-politicised, Tory-introduced and controversial departmental process in itself), they ensure that their offspring are accepted into the nearest grammar or business-backed academy, or pay to go private.

Every parent wants the best for their child, but those with the money for school fees or private coaching ahead of the 11+ are automatically able to place their kids in a more advantageous position. As children from better-off families are “skimmed” out of state schools, we see a lack of socio-economic diversity in many comprehensives up and down the country.

To boost social mobility and help disadvantaged children reach their full potential, we should address the Tory cuts that have widened the chasm of inequality in our schools. Cuts to Sure Start centres, cuts that force parents to crowdfund for whiteboards, computers and crossing attendants, and cuts that leave comprehensives with no choice but to make their school days shorter must be reversed as a matter of priority.

Perhaps private schools, raking vast amounts of money in yearly fees, should be forced to give up their charitable status and be expected to pay the full rate of tax? Just an idea.

The Conservative Party is incapable of clearing up the mess they’ve made of education. Even their summer election pledge to inject £4bn into education was found by the National Audit Office to actually result in 9,000 more schools facing extreme cuts.

Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution, or even a flimsy sticking plaster. It’s just another example of the Tories’ inability to recognise the true causes of educational inequality.

How to help a friend who’s going through a shit time with their mental health

Compassion and understanding are key. Go forth, help your friends and don’t be a dick.   

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Unfortunately, mental health is still surrounded by a great deal of stigma and misinformation. Poor understanding of mental health problems leaves sufferers feeling isolated and too embarrassed or apprehensive to seek help.

Statistically, every single one of us will know someone who suffers from a mental illness. If you’ve got a friend who’s having a hard time with their mental health, it’s often difficult to know what the best thing to do is.

I’ve created this list in the hope that it could be helpful because I’ve been let down and abandoned by friends, bullied by a group of people I thought were my friends and I’ve felt completely alone with my mental illness. There are ways you can help a friend who’s struggling without putting your life on hold or inadvertently making things worse for them.

Listen to them

This really is the biggest thing you can do to help. Sit down with your friend, open your ears and listen. If they want to talk about how they feel, listen without judgement or blame. Mental health is not the fault of anyone. It doesn’t matter if they make what you consider to be ‘bad choices’ or they use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. No one brings a mental illness upon themselves.

Ask them what you can do for them. This is important because they might have specific things they need help with that you may not have considered. It’s often better to ask them if they want you to offer them advice, rather than coming out with unsolicited suggestions that they might already considered.

Preaching, rehashing mistakes you think they’ve made or saying ‘I told you so’ are all very unhelpful.

Don’t leave them alone unless that’s what they’ve specifically asked you to do 

This can be a tricky one, but as a general rule of thumb, if your friend feels abandoned or like you’re punishing them for struggling with their mental health, it’s going to make the situation indescribably worse. If you don’t know what to say, just listen. If you don’t know what to do, ask them. Feeling awkward or confused or scared is totally normal, but if you end up giving someone who’s suffering the cold shoulder because you feel a bit weird about the situation, it’s not going to help anyone.

Obviously, a lot depends on how much you can personally cope with and whether you feel that being there for your friend is negatively impacting on your own mental health. This is particularly pertinent if you also suffer from mental health issues.

Boundaries are important in any healthy relationship but you should be clear about these. For example, if you can’t take a day off work to look after a friend, tell them so, tell them why and arrange to see them in the evening once work has finished. You’re still being there for them, but you can’t be available 24/7.

Suggest low-risk activities.

Whether it’s watching a happy film (a comedy or a kids film is often a good choice), getting a takeaway delivered and eating together or sitting down with a cup of tea, ask them whether any of those options take their fancy.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid crowded places and alcohol. However, some people find it easier to open up about what’s been bothering them over a drink. It really depends on the situation, your friend’s mental health history and the severity of the crisis they’re having.

Make yourself available for errands and boring household tasks

One of the most helpful things when people are struggling is to offer to do a couple of chores for them. This can be washing up and wiping their kitchen surfaces, walking their dog or going to Tesco and picking up comfort food if they’re not feeling up to leaving the house. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, the prospect of blitzing your home or doing a shop can seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

I ended up hand-washing a bath full of my friend’s clothes because her washing machine was broken and she was having a really tough couple of days. Chores and responsibilities were piling up and seemed completely overwhelming, but because I was able to get the washing out of the way for her, the other tasks she had to complete seemed more manageable.

It always helps to have a living space that’s not completely cluttered or full of takeaway boxes – for many people, a messy environment just reminds them of how they’re not coping at full capacity and reflects their headspace.

Don’t gossip about their mental health or the situation they’re in to other friends 

It’s tempting to do this if you want advice or need support. Try asking your friend first. If they’re comfortable with you seeking advice from one other person, that’s great. But if they’re not, don’t tell your mates about what they’re going through.

No one wants to feel like they’re being talked about, and if you’re really struggling, your mind can go to dark places imagining what people are saying about you.

There are lots of great online and phone resources you can access if you’re caring for someone else, including Mind, YoungMinds, the 111 number, Rethink and the Samaritans.

If the situation becomes more serious and your friend is threatening to harm themselves, has self-harmed or is planning to commit suicide, ringing an ambulance, the NHS crisis team or the 111 number is often the only thing you can do.

Encourage them to seek professional help

Most of us (myself included) are absolutely not trained in mental health support. We’re just trying to do our best in the situation that presents itself. You should always encourage a friend to access mental health services, whether that’s making an appointment with their GP, making an emergency GP appointment, going to an out-of-hours GP service, attending a therapist, ringing the Samaritans or the crisis team or, in extreme situations, going to A&E.

Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’

If it was that easy, they already would be over it! Mental health problems don’t have quick fix solutions. You don’t decide to me mentally ill and you don’t decide to not be mentally ill anymore. Directives like ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘snap out of it’ are useless and damaging. They really won’t help, as much as you might want someone to change their mindset and stop feeling so bad.

Remember that they’re still the same person

There’s nothing weak or weird about someone who’s struggling with a mental health problem. Your friend hasn’t become a different person. You still share your good times, your memories, your in-jokes and your experiences. Treat them as your friend. Don’t ‘other’ them.

By bringing normality into this situation, you show the person that you still value them as the friend they are and that their mental health problems don’t make them an outcast or a stranger to you.

Compassion and understanding are key. Go forth, help your friends and don’t be a dick.

Two years on from his election, I support Jeremy Corbyn because he continues to voice inconvenient truths

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

First published by The Independent, 12th September 2017

Two years ago today, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. He won a landslide victory with 59.9 per cent of first-preference votes in the first round of voting, despite securing the lowest number of nominations from fellow MPs. Corbyn received more votes than any of the other candidates (Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall) put together.

Since then, Corbyn has been transformed from an unkempt backbencher, quietly voting on the right side of history over Iraq, LGBT marriage, climate change and tuition fees, into a true statesman. He has proved himself more than worthy as Leader of the Opposition, combating the jeering and bullying behaviour of Tory MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions with his characteristic dignity and control.

During the election campaign, he managed to clearly highlight Theresa May’s contempt for the public she’s expected to serve, simply by doing what he does best – connecting with people. On each campaign stop, he spent time talking to people of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life, unfiltered and with clarity and compassion.

As Theresa May’s presidential-style election campaign descended into an embarrassing farce during the general election she promised not to call and then did, and as she refused to even debate Corbyn face-to-face, young people and first-time voters gained a renewed sense of purpose and energy. The disillusioned and the disinterested were revitalised by the prospect of a Labour government. The tireless campaigning of Labour activists all over Britain saw Labour take back historically Conservative seats like Canterbury and gain 40 per cent of the popular vote.

The next morning, many seasoned political pundits were forced to acknowledge that they hadn’t been listening to voters and they hadn’t been listening to the alternative Jeremy Corbyn offered. They’d been stuck in the past, insisting that there was no way Corbyn could be elected while ignoring the basic facts about actual voters in 2017.

In the aftermath of the devastating terror attacks in Manchester and London this year, Corbyn was brave and principled enough to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that Britain’s support of foreign wars is inextricably linked to the rise in terrorism at home. His sobering assessment that Conservative cuts to policing have left us vulnerable was worth more than any empty platitudes from Theresa May, who presided over these cuts as Home Secretary.

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

Theresa May: Corbyn continually asks for money to be spent on “this, that and the other”

He exposed austerity as the ideological decision to place the burden of the global banking crisis and subsequent recession on the shoulders of the most vulnerable people in our society, and presented a fully costed, economically viable manifesto in the 2017 general election that would eradicate the need for cruel and unjust austerity measures.

Jeremy Corbyn might not be in Number 10 yet, but I’m proud to have voted for him in two leadership elections and for a Labour government under him in this year’s general election. Britain needs a leader with Corbyn’s principles, his vision and his unwavering sense of compassion.

Forget bigoted throwbacks like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who uses Catholicism to justify the idea that women who have been raped shouldn’t get abortions.

Corbyn is our Prime Minister in waiting. Bring on the next general election.

“These issues are high up Corbyn’s agenda”: Maxine Peake on the crisis in social housing

“We need to start valuing people who live on estates and valuing the estates themselves. Bricks and concrete don’t cause societal problems – they’re caused by inequality.”

First published by New Statesman, 25th August 2017

“I believe that a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn could go some way towards solving this issue. That’s one of the reasons we’re behind him, he’s a viable option and these issues are high up on his agenda.”

Maxine Peake is discussing the housing crisis, and in particular the decimation of social housing that is the subject of a new documentary she is narrating.

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle tackles the causes of Britain’s social housing crisis and gives a voice to tenants whose homes are threatened by action from local councils and private developers.

The stats are starkly revealing. In 1980, 40 per cent of Britain’s population lived in social housing. Today, less than 8 per cent do, and around 1.7 million people are stuck on waiting lists.

“Areas in London have just become full of Airbnb rentals,” says Peake. “There’s no community because people don’t actually live there, they just stay for two weeks, four weeks, a couple of days.

“People think, ‘I can make some money here’ and that just feeds into the sense that housing is about ‘oh, what can I gain?’ The whole purpose of the home becomes lost if it’s seen as an assert to trade on.”

Directed by Paul Sng (Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain), Dispossession takes the viewer on a whistlestop tour of housing policy from the end of the Second World War right up to the present day. It lays the blame for the depletion of social housing stock at the door of both Conservative and New Labour governments.

“Margaret Thatcher’s a major part of why this country’s in the terrible state that it is, but you can also blame Tony Blair,” says Sng. “In the 13 years of New Labour, fewer houses were built than under Thatcher’s government, because Blair and Gordon Brown ran with Thatcher’s policy.

“It’s now obvious that the market economics that Thatcher forcefully pushed through, the absolute faith in the market to deliver housing – it hasn’t worked.”

Perhaps most disturbingly, Dispossession highlights a deliberate strategy on the part of local councils to allow social housing stock to fall into disrepair, so they can embark on costly “regeneration” projects with private developers. These have seen estates bulldozed and tenants forced from their homes.

Communities are broken apart and people are moved out of the area they may have lived in their whole lives, away from family, friends and support networks. For vulnerable people, this can be an act of terrible cruelty.

Sng spent many years of his young life in social housing, and says “poverty porn” programmes such as Benefits Street are created to make viewers “feel good about themselves” – and to reinforce negative perceptions of council tenants. Dispossession includes interviews with social housing tenants in London, Glasgow and Nottingham.

Eileen and Micheal O’Keeffe have lived on the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill for 41 years, but their home is now under threat from Lambeth Council. They describe attending the weddings of their neighbours’ children, leaving the viewer in no doubt that the sense of community and relationships they’ve built have been formed organically over many, many years. These community bonds can’t be quickly rebuilt elsewhere, should (as they fear) Lambeth raze the estate and sell the highly lucrative land to private developers. (Lambeth Council say that the proposal for Cressingham Gardens is for the estate to be regenerated by Homes for Lambeth, which will be wholly-owned by Lambeth Council and any plans would replace all council properties on Cressingham Gardens, with new homes at council-level rents.)

Dispossession feels very necessary, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It approaches the national scandal of social housing with extraordinary precision and compassion. With an estimated 4,134 people living on the streets in Britain – while 200,000 properties have stood empty for more than six months – it’s clear that our approach to housing needs a radical overhaul.

“I’m supposedly a successful actress and I couldn’t buy until I was 32, and I had to move back up north, because I wanted a house,” says Peake. “This is over 11 years ago, and the situation has become so much worse since then. It’s the younger generation I really feel for.

“Everyone needs to see this film. It’s a documentary about where were are socially and it’s as important as I, Daniel Blake.”

According to Sng, his film is about value. “Not about property values, but about who is valued. If Grenfell can tell us anything, it’s that the people who lived there were not valued by the council, but that’s not a phenomenon that’s just confined to Kensington and Chelsea.

“We need to start valuing people who live on estates and valuing the estates themselves. Bricks and concrete don’t cause societal problems – they’re caused by inequality.”

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle will be screening in selected theatres from August to November.

Theresa May, either take a stand or get the hell out of office – Britain doesn’t want a PM who can’t condemn Donald Trump

If Theresa May continues to stay quiet about Trump, she will be seen as an appeaser and an enabler – our entire country will.

First published by The Independent, 16th August 2017

A refusal to denounce evil is an evil in and of itself. In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump has drawn a moral equivalency between the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, one of whom murdered a civil rights activist during the demonstration, and counter-protesters standing against fascism. And Theresa May has failed to condemn him.

The President of the United States laid blame principally at the feet of the “alt-left” and described them as “very, very violent”. This was the side which saw a car plough into protesters, seriously injuring many and killing one innocent woman. Of the other side – with their torches and Nazi salutes and screams of racist, sexist and transphobic abuse – he said: “Not all of those people are neo-Nazis, not all of those people are white supremacists, by any stretch… You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Where indeed?

It’s safe to say that Trump has shown his hand more shamelessly than ever before. Is he afraid of upsetting a key fan base or just incapable of hiding his true colours? Whatever the truth is, we know that white supremacists celebrated after his speech. David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeted: “Thankyou President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa”.

Theresa May, in refusing to condemn this joke of a President, is now a limping embarrassment to her country.

When asked about Trump’s comments, May evaded the question. Speaking to reporters today in Portsmouth, she chose instead to say: As I made clear at the weekend following the horrendous scenes that we saw in Charlottesville, I absolutely abhor the racism, the hatred and the violence that we have seen portrayed by these groups.”

There was no mention of Trump, of his blatant courting of a fascist minority and his description of those protecting the statue of a Confederate soldier as “fine people” who have been “unfairly treated” by a press reporting “fake news”. No, Theresa kept remarkably quiet about her friend Donald, whose hand she so willingly held on a visit to the White House.

What kind of a leader – indeed, what kind of a person – do you have to be to falter when asked to condemn someone who thinks that a group of torch-bearing fascists in Nazi uniforms and Klansman robes are “very fine people”? May is now no better than the weedy sidekick, holding the coat of the playground bully while he grinds another kid’s face into the dirt. Her weakness and moral deficiency is a stain on the office of Prime Minister.

This is no longer about Brexit trade deals or keeping that “special relationship” intact. It’s about simple ethics. We do not shy away from openly condemning those who are apologists for Nazism and fascist ideologies in Britain. We give ourselves over to fighting them and opposing their vile agenda.

If Theresa May continues to stay quiet about Trump, she will be seen as an appeaser and an enabler – our entire country will. Her refusal to stand up to the orange bully in the White House defiles the memory of every single British citizen who lost their lives fighting in the Second World War. Our grandfathers went to war against Nazis, but in 2017 our Prime Minister cosies up to someone who turns a blind eye to their existence in his own country for votes.

In the words of Theresa May’s own Cabinet minister Sajid Javid on Twitter today: “Neo-Nazis: bad. Anti-Nazis: good. I learned that as a child. It was pretty obvious.”

Enough is enough, Theresa May. It’s time to take a stand or get the hell out of office.

When even a High Court judge says Tory policy causes ‘real misery for no good purpose’, you know it’s crunch time

Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children.

First published by The Independent 

Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK.

High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.

Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating.

Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two.

Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government, until the situation you find yourself in is so bleak and awful that you can hardly face another day.

The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically.

In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery.

It becomes out of the question to invite friends round for dinner or to play. Invitations to other children’s houses are declined, because it’s embarrassing not to be able to return the courtesy. Holidays are out of the question. School performance falters and declines.

In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50 per cent of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.

If this sounds Victorian to you, that’s because it is. Despite the Conservative Party’s claims that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifesto would “take Britain back to the 1970s”, it’s abundantly clear that we’re currently mired in the 1800s. The seventies seem progressive in comparison, and Corbyn has consistently called for the scrapping of the benefits cap.

Today’s ruling is welcome, but Tory ministers, far from pleading mea culpa and consigning this cruel policy to the rubbish heap, are reportedly preparing to appeal the High Court’s decision, calling it “disappointing”.

This Government is so flagrantly uncaring about the wellbeing of its citizens that it hears the testimony of those lone parents living in poverty, turning to food banks, suffering due to the Tory benefits cap, and decides “no that was a pretty good policy, let’s appeal to keep it”.

There is no progress in austerity. It brings nothing good, only pain and degradation. It is a sustained attack on the most vulnerable families in Britain, punishing the poor by inflicting further poverty and humiliation on them.

The Conservative Government is a shambles, lacking leadership, floundering towards a deal with a bigoted party of climate change deniers, and yet cracking on with their agenda of fiscal absurdity and rampant social cruelty. The ruling on the benefits cap should only be the beginning. They have twisted and gouged at this country for long enough. They have to go.