Is flying a St George's flag an act of patriotism or a symbol of all that is bad about England?

If you’re of a flag-waving bent, you’ll be enjoying an almost unparalleled summer right now. From the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, through the Queen’s official birthday, to the World Cup, which segues nicely into the annual patriorgasm of The Proms, 2018 is the year for you.

But… where are you? As the globe’s finest football tournament gets underway in Russia, there is a definite dearth of flags draped from bedroom windows, flying from car roofs, clattering against poles erected in gardens. Whither John Bull, Britannia, and Captain Britain?

We in Britain have a curious relationship with the Union Jack, and in England an even more uneasy affair with the cross of St George. We often opine that other countries have a far more relaxed approach to waving their national flag, and wonder why we can’t be the same here.

It’s a vexing question, or perhaps more a question of vexillology (the study of flags, don’t you know). But the simple answer is that being overly fond of the English or British flags these days marks you out as a certain type of person.

You fly the flag, you’re a close-our-borders, take-back-control, I’m-not-racist-but Brexiteer who brushes away a tear at the first strains of the national anthem. You fly the flag and you’re a gammon-faced Middle Englander one heart-pump away from a coronary as you spit bile from the fourth row of the Question Time audience. You fly the flag, you’re a bulldog-tattooed, shaven headed, there’s-no-black-in-the-Union-Jack sports casual yomping around London fuelled by cheap lager and steak bakes, demanding the release of the English Defence League’s jailed founder Tommy Robinson.

Flags have their origins in the military, to identify the troops and the enemy (Getty)

The Union Jack and the St George cross have been tainted by association with the far right. Nobody seems surprised any more to see some bull-headed idiot draped in the flag and performing a Nazi salute. Which is a quite remarkable state of affairs.

We’ll recall, of course, that back when the Nazi salute was even more popular than it was now, the red, white and blue of the Union Flag (it’s often said that the flag should only be called the Union Jack when flown from a royal navy ship, though this is apparently a relatively recent cause for debate) was the symbol under which the free world rallied. This flag kills Nazis, we said, back in the 1940s. Even Dad’s Army in the 1970s had in its opening credits the Union Jack pointedly and relentlessly pushing swastikas back into the depths of Europe.

These colours don’t run, people used to say. Back in the Second World War, they didn’t, but that’s not what they meant when they said it. They meant that anyone wearing the English flag on foreign soil, for the purposes of supporting the national football team, would not be backing down from a fight with fans of other nations.

English football fans abroad earned such a foul reputation that ahead of the World Cup, England’s head of football policing, Mark Roberts, urged fans to leave the flags at home, warning they could “come across as imperialistic and cause antagonism”.

It may not surprise you to learn that there is a Flag Institute in the UK, which describes itself as the country’s national flag charity and which has members “in all six continents” (not quite sure how that works). They have produced a guide entitled Flying Flags in the United Kingdom (which is downloadable free from their site at and they want the British flag to be a symbol of unity not division.

In the guide’s introduction, written by Flag Institute president Malcolm Farrow and co-signed by MP Andrew Rosindell, chair of the Flags and Heraldry committee, it says: “For too long our flag has been taken for granted and largely ignored.

“Few children are taught about it in school, few people know its history or even the correct way to fly it. It is time that this changed and we became familiar with our flag, because all of us have the right to fly the flag and may use it on land wherever and whenever we wish. It is the people’s flag as well as the state flag.”

But… is it, though, really? The origins of flags lie in military roots. Roman troops used to have a standard bearer carrying, say, the eagle of the Ninth Legion to let you know that trouble was on its way. In the Middle Ages pennants bearing heraldic designs were held aloft in battle so observers could see that Sir Roger de Courcey of Nookiebear Hall was getting well stuck in 

. And by the turn of the 17th century, the forerunner of the Union Jack was created by royal decree so that both English and Scottish ships could fly the same banner and be easily identifiable at sea.

Flags have without question proved vital during times of war and strife. Look, here we come to kick your arse. Oh dear, we’re getting our arses kicked, send help. That ship’s not flying our flag, let’s go and kick its arse.

Had Britain not planted its flag in large amounts of the world during the days of empire, perhaps the Union Jack might not have the imperialist, unwelcome connotations it has across the world. Imagine, if you will, the Second World War having gone in a different direction. Imagine the Nazis had won. Then consider how people would have felt, 20 years later, when the German team came over to Britain for the 1966 World Cup, their fans draped in swastika flags.

Flying the British or English flags on home turf is necessarily an act of nationalism. What else can it be? Patriotism? Isn’t that just the same thing? If you fly the Union Jack from a flagpole in your garden, what’s the purpose? To tell your neighbours that you’re English? They probably know that. They live next door. They are, too.

However, to voice criticism of flag-flying is to invite a host of problems to your door. Ask Huw Thomas, who was standing in the Welsh ward of Ceredigion for Labour in the 2015 General Election, and who wrote a blog (almost 10 years earlier) saying the number of England flags he saw flying in Wales “sickened” him and were the signs of a “simpleton or casual racist”.

Class raises its head in the flag debate. Not too many in Ilkley or Mayfair (Getty)

Ask Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP who resigned as shadow attorney general in 2014 after being attacked for posting to social media a picture of a house in Rochester draped with three England flags. Her tweet was deemed to be snobby and disrespectful, especially to the working class that Labour was desperately trying to court back to the fold.

And class must raise its head in this debate. Where are you most likely to see flags being flown? On the council estates, in the working-class enclaves. Not so much in Ilkley and Mayfair, perhaps. Save for the almost cartoonish pomp of the Proms, grassroots patriotism is seen as a salt of the earth sort of thing. Why, is another matter. Maybe it’s a classic authoritarian bread and circuses sort of thing; as a government, if you can keep the masses distracted with flag-waving fervour, they’re not going to spend as much time worrying that you’re stripping the NHS down to the bone, scrapping all their benefits and mothballing the places where they work.

Maybe that’s why there aren’t as many flags flying as normal this summer. Perhaps people are fed up with being distracted. Perhaps they’re fed up with being tarred with the same brush as all those proper racist, right-wing fanatics who’ve coopted the British flag for their own ends.

Still, we must remember that there was a brief period in recent history when the Union Jack seemed to shed its negative connotations. It was the 1990s, of course, those middle years of the decade when Britpop held sway, when football was coming home for Euro 96. Three Lions on a Shirt. Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress. New Labour and Things Can Only Get Better. Vanity Fair‘s  “London Swings Again” cover featuring Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit in a red, white and blue John and Yoko-style bed-in.

But by the turn of the millennium, the north of England was inflamed by race riots, Nick Griffin was leading the British National Party to unprecedented success, and then the shocking events of 11 September 2001 occurred, and when the dust settled the Union Jack was not something with which to proclaim the coolness of Britannia, but a thing to shelter under, to draw in beneath, to mark out us from them.

There will always be people for whom the British flag is a symbol of the greatness of this country and that to not display it with pride suggests a failing of patriotism that is unforgivable.

There will always be those who think that the red of England on the St George flag and the Union Jack makes for a blood-stained cloth too ingrained by history to ever be a positive thing, and that flying either standard makes you complicit in everything that has ever been bad about England and Britain.

Will either side convince the other, or will we remain – as far as the flag is concerned – a disunited kingdom? Can we ever return to the days of the 1990s when Britain was out, loud and proud?

Perhaps this year, with its much-rumoured reunion of The Spice Girls, is when we finally find out.

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British motorcyclist stays in Bolivia for a year to see gang who raped her and left her for dead jailed

A British woman who was raped and left for dead by three men armed with machetes stayed in Bolivia for a year to make sure they were put behind bars. 

Vasilisa Komarova, 37, was just over a year into a solo motorcycle tour when she was dragged from her tent by three men, beaten and raped before being left for dead. 

After refusing to leave Bolivia for almost a year and ignoring warnings the case might never reach a court, Ms Komarova came face to face with her attackers – Jose Gongora, 26, Yery Yumacale, 24, and Fabio Bazan, 30 – last month as they were sentenced to a total of 42 years in jail. 

Waiving her right to anonymity, Ms Komarova described how the trip of a lifetime suddenly turned to terror on 4 June, 2017. 

“I’m afraid I will never forget it; it’s embedded into my memory,” said Ms Komarova, who gained British citizenship after moving from Moscow to Lancaster Gate, in London, when she was 20. 

“I had spent time going on boats and taking photographs on a river near Santa Rosa which was beautiful, like a safari, and the family of the person who took me on the boat highly recommended camping at this lagoon. 

“I left my tent to take a photograph of the lagoon and these men, who were like fishermen, offered for me to go with them. 

“I said I didn’t want to and tried to cut the conversation to a minimum because I was a little bit worried and went back to my tent to sleep. 

Vasilisa said she was ‘fighting not to be raped’ during the ordeal (Vasilisa Komarova)

“I woke to the sound of someone starting to move my motorbike which was at the side of my tent and then I saw the shadow of this person with a machete and then it went really nasty because they pulled me out of the tent.” 

Gongora raped her while the other two men choked her and held her down in a brutal attack.

They had damaged her motorbike so she couldn’t escape and robbed her of her possessions before leaving her for dead.​

“They looked like they hated women,” Ms Komarova, who worked as a lawyer in Russia, told The Independent

“I’m absolutely sure they came to rape me, they didn’t come to rob me, because they said they came from a party and had looked for a bitch to have fun but I was fighting to not be raped so only one person managed and I think they got tired from me because I wasn’t co-operating. 

“They didn’t cut me with the machete but they scratched me.  

The keen motorcyclist aims to set up a forum for other victims (Vasilisa Komarova)

“I lost consciousness because I was constantly choked. I couldn’t move and they hit me and I lost part of my tooth.  

“It did hurt a lot and some of my bones were dislocated.” 

Ms Komarova was too scared to walk through the night to find help so waited until the morning when people visited the lagoon to wash their clothes. 

Fortunately her attackers left behind her MacBook Pro laptop, which was hidden under her sleeping bag, and she managed to make contact with someone in the Russian embassy who she had previously met by chance. 

She managed to get work as a personal trainer so she could stay in Bolivia while she waited for the case to go to trial. 

Her three attackers denied rape and robbery but were convicted at San Borja court following a two-day trial. 

Gongora got 25 years for rape and 10 years for armed robbery, to run concurrently. 


Yumacale received 10 years for aiding the rape and eight for robbery. 

Bazan got seven-and-a-half years for aiding the rape. All three plan to appeal.  

“I’m so happy they will never ever touch another woman. People like that shouldn’t be on the streets and shouldn’t be around little girls,” said Ms Komarova. 

The keen motorcyclist and photographer is not letting her experience hold her back and she plans to set off again from Peru to complete her trip to Alaska. 

“It’s the biggest dream of my life and I’m not going to wash it away because of three drunken men – they aren’t worth it,” she said. 

“I also hope to create a forum for other victims called the Phoenix Sisters.

“We are just like a phoenix because we get burned down but then we become alive again and come back stronger.”

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Israel's deportation of African asylum seekers labelled 'cruel and unlawful' by Amnesty International

Israel’s deportation of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers is “cruel and unlawful”, Amnesty International has said in a report calling for an end to the practice.

The study, published on Monday, says the African migrants are being sent to Rwanda and Uganda, which Israel has an agreement with.

It claims immigration officials routinely offer an ultimatum to asylum-seekers: to go back home, to leave voluntarily for Rwanda or Uganda, or to face indefinite detention in Israel.

One was allegedly told: “If you don’t leave…you will leave Israel in a coffin”.

Charmain Mohamed, Amnesty International’s head of refugee and migrant rights, said: “Israel is one of the most prosperous countries in the region but it is going out of its way to shirk its responsibility to provide refuge to people fleeing war and persecution and who are already on its territory.”

According to the UN refugee agency, there are about 27,000 Eritrean and 7,700 Sudanese seeking asylum in Israel.

The new 45-page report – called Forceful and Unlawful – says it has interviewed 30 of them about their experience, although none are named.

One, who spoke while at Israel’s Saharonim Prison, is quoted as saying: “Every day, all the time, the prison guards and the Interior Ministry officers tell me that it would be better for me to go to Rwanda. They say: ‘If you don’t leave for Rwanda, you will leave Israel in a coffin’… But I have friends in Rwanda who tell me not to come, that the situation there is very difficult. I prefer to die in Eritrea so that my mother can visit my grave than to go to Rwanda or Uganda. I have nothing there.”

The report also throws doubt on Israel’s claim that the Eritreans and Sudanese are economic migrants. Rather it states most are fleeing persecution or serious human rights violations.

And it says that many of those who do agree to go to Rwanda or Uganda are left with questionable legal status in the new country – despite Israeli assurances they will have assured legal status there.

Uganda has repeatedly denied the existence of an agreement for the reception of deportees.

The Independent has contacted the Embassy of Israel in London for comment.

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Britain's housing market splits in two as north powers ahead of south

Britain’s housing market has split in two with strong activity in the north and “challenging” conditions in the south, a new report has revealed.

Overall, average asking prices moved up 0.4 per cent from a month ago to a new record high of £309,439, data from Rightmove showed.

However, conditions vary significantly between the north and south of the country. In the north, the number of properties for sale has dropped 4.3 per cent compared with a year ago, giving sellers more power to raise prices. 

In contrast, available stock in the south has jumped by an average of 17.5 per cent over the same period compared to a year ago, putting downward pressure on prices.

Miles Shipside, Rightmove director and housing market analyst, said: “At an initial glance all of this fits with a theme of ‘steady as she goes’ as the spring market concludes. 

“However, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find that the main driver is good buyer demand in the comparatively stock-starved northern half of Britain’s housing market. 

“This demand, fuelled by prices that in comparison to the south are still relatively affordable, have meant the number of properties left available to buy has dwindled in the north and increased in the south.” 

At a regional level, Wales and Scotland have seen the greatest drop in available stock, with 10.3 per cent and 10.4 per cent fewer properties for sale compared to a year ago respectively. 

The number of properties available has fallen by just 2.3 per cent in the northeast and 2.2 per cent int the West Midlands. 

All southern regions have more properties on the market than they did a year ago, indicating more challenging market conditions. 

The east of England has 24.9 per cent more properties up for sale, the southeast 20.0 per cent. London and the southwest have experienced a smaller increases of 16.4 per cent and 8.2 per cent respectively.

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Campaigners warn of 'rentquake' as analysis reveals amount spent by private renters is approaching parity with mortgage payments

Campaigners have warned of a “rentquake” after new figures revealed the amount being paid by private renters in England is approaching parity with mortgage payments.

Ten years ago, the amount of rent being paid was only 30 per cent of the total handed over by homeowners, but now the figure is more than 75 per cent, according to new analysis by housing charity Shelter.

The total amount spent on private rent jumped more than 160 per cent in less than a decade, from £15.9bn in 2006 to £41.3bn in 2015-16, according to the report that used the most up-to-date figures possible.

Meanwhile, the total spent by home owners almost flatlined – rising just 5 per cent, from £52.1bn to £54.9bn. The figures were not adjusted for inflation.

Greg Beales, director of campaigns at Shelter, said: “A rent crisis has been creeping up on us for years, with rents soaring along with the number of people renting.

“Consecutive governments have done little to stop it, leaving families right across the country struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“This government should step in and give families protection from this ‘rentquake’ by building far more homes that are genuinely affordable to rent.” 

Shadow housing secretary John Healey said in a statement: “After eight years of failure, the Conservatives have no plan to fix the housing crisis.

“Ministers admit the housing market is broken but they won’t act to make it work better for private renters.

“The next Labour government will call time on bad landlords and bring in new three-year tenancies with control on rents.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said the government had delivered more than 357,000 new affordable properties since 2010.

“We are determined to do more, and are investing a further £9billion in affordable homes, including £2billion to help councils and housing associations build properties for social rent,“ said the spokesperson.

“We are also committed to giving councils the power to borrow £1billion to build new properties in the areas were there are the greatest affordability pressures.

“To help make renting fairer and more transparent, we are banning letting fees and cracking down on rogue landlords.“

They added that the government will consult on options to support landlords to offer longer tenancies to those who want them, giving tenants more security of tenure in their homes.

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Defence funding needs to increase to prevent armed forces being 'outgunned by Russians', new report claims

UK armed forces need a significant hike in funding to tackle threats from states like Russia and fill existing “black holes” in their finances, a new parliamentary report has said.

The report from the Commons Defence Committee said the government should increase defence spending up from 2% to 3% of total GDP.

A cash injection on this scale would equate to additional funding of around £20 billion a year and bring investment in defence to levels similar to those seen in the immediate period after the end of the Cold War.

In its report, the committee warned that a failure to sustainably finance the military on a sustainable basis makes it “very difficult” to implement a long-term strategy for Britain’s defence needs.

The threat from Russia – as well as challenges from new forms of warfare like cyber-terrorism – necessitates a “robust” financial new settlement, the report said. 

This report comes just weeks before the expected release of high-level findings from the Ministry of Defence’s Modernising Defence Programme (MDP).

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In the committee’s view, a lack of vehicle-mounted anti-tank weapons and “serious deficiencies in the quantities of armour, armoured vehicles and artillery” means the British Army is in danger of being “outgunned” by its Russian counterpart.

Other defence needs identified by the committee included:

  • Greater anti-submarine warfare capacity;
  • The generation of a Royal Navy carrier group capable of protecting the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers without depending on other states;
  • The maintenance of the target strength of the regular Army at a minimum of 82,000 personnel;
  • A layered air defence system to protect the war-fighting division.

Committee chairman Julian Lewis said: “The Secretary of State was right to remove defence from the National Security Capability Review which would otherwise have resulted in further disastrous cuts to the armed forces, and we endorse his efforts to obtain a better settlement for defence.

“The Government now needs to look beyond the 2 per cent minimum on defence spending, and begin moving towards a figure of 3 per cent, to place our defence policy on a sustainable basis to meet new threats and fill existing financial ‘black holes’.

“Defence is constantly described as the first duty of government. The MDP is the government‘s opportunity to show that it means what it says.”

Press Association

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Number of card payments overtakes cash for the first time ever in the UK

Debit card payments overtook the number of those made by cash last year for the first time ever, a trade association has said. 

There were 13.2 billion debit card payments in 2017 – eclipsing the 13.1 billion payments made in cash, according to UK Finance.

The body said the tipping point occurred in the final quarter of 2017 – a few months earlier than it had previously forecast.

The boom in contactless payments across the UK is a key driver of the growth of debit card use, with 5.6 billion contactless payments made last year on both debit and credit cards combined.

UK Finance estimates 63 per cent of people in the UK now use contactless payments. The average adult made nine contactless payments per month in 2017 – up from five in 2016.

Adam Herson, the business development director of Barclaycard, said: “More recently, we have seen a surge in the use of wearable and mobile payments, creating new, exciting opportunities for both shoppers and brands.

“Consumers are increasingly able to match their payment accessory or device to their lifestyle or fashion taste.”

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By 2027, the average adult is expected to make 22 contactless payments per month.

Those aged between 25 and 34 are the most likely group to use contactless cards. Last year, 77 per cent of people in this age group made contactless payments.

Although people aged 65 or older are less likely than younger people to make contactless payments, more than half of this age group made contactless payments during 2017.

UK Finance said that while cash use is expected to continue to fall over the next decade, it is not about to die out as a form of payment. Cash is still the second most frequently used payment method, after debit cards.

Around 2.2 million people mainly used cash for their day-to-day shopping in 2017, said UK Finance.

Stephen Jones, chief executive of UK Finance, said: “The choice of payment options available in the UK is allowing people to choose to pay the way that best suits them.

“But we’re far from becoming a cash-free society and despite the UK transforming to an economy where cash is less important than it once was, it will remain a payment method that continues to be valued and preferred by many.”

Press Association

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HPV vaccine has led to 'significant drop' in cervical cancer rates among UK women, study reveals

A new study has shown the success of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine programme in significantly reducing the number of young women carrying potentially life-threatening infections. 

The majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV 16 and HPV 18 strains.

According to data from Public Health England (PHE), these infections decreased by 86 per cent in English women aged 16 to 21 who were eligible for the vaccination as teenagers between 2010 and 2016.

Specifically, the data reveals reductions across five high-risk HPV types in total, which cause around 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases and adds to a body of evidence which suggests the vaccine offers protection against other HPV types that can cause cervical cancer.

PHE also suggested this decline could continue over a long-term timeframe.  Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said: “These results are very promising and mean that in years to come we can expect to see significant decreases in cervical cancer, which is currently one of the biggest causes of cancer in women under 35.

“This study also reminds us how important it is to keep vaccination rates high to reduce the spread of this preventable infection.

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“I encourage all parents of girls aged 12 to 13 to make sure they take up the offer of this potentially life-saving vaccine.”

Cancer charities have welcomed the news. Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is extremely positive to see the impact that the vaccination has had on prevalence of cervical cancer-causing HPV infection among vaccinated women.

“One day we hope to see cervical cancer become a disease of the past and it is only through high vaccination rates that we will get there.

“For women who have had the vaccine, it is important to remember it does not offer full protection against cervical cancer so attending cervical screening when invited is still important.”

The HPV vaccination programme was first introduced in 2008. An estimated 80 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 have now been vaccinated in the UK.

It is available free on the NHS to all girls from the age of 12 until they turn 18.

Girls in England are routinely offered their first HPV vaccination when they are in year 8 of school, with the second dose being offered six to 12 months later.

Press Association

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Scotland launches two-week firearms amnesty to get guns off streets

Scottish police have launched a two-week gun amnesty to stop firearms falling into the hands of criminals.

They hope its firearms surrender campaign will reduce the risk of weapons falling into the wrong hands.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “What we want to do is remove any firearm availability from the criminals that operate right across the country.

“There have been a lot of high profile incidents in recent times and we want to reduce the opportunity for individuals that are intent on using firearms within our communities to actually come into possession of these weapons.

“The people that will discharge firearms within the criminal world show an utter disregard for the safety of our communities and the safety of our citizens, so one of the things this surrender campaign hopes to achieve is actually to remove a whole bunch of weapons that if they fell into the wrong hands could do significant harm.”

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Anyone who has a firearm or ammunition without a valid certificate can take it to one of 43 police stations around the country during the amnesty, which runs from Monday June 18 until Sunday July 1.

People will also be able to hand in replica firearms, air weapons, BB guns, imitation firearms, component parts and other ballistic items during the initiative.

Anyone who surrenders a firearm will not be asked to give their personal details – but police said that they reserve the right to investigate the history of the weapon if appropriate, to establish whether it has been used in any crime.

People can hand in any firearms, whether someone has realised their firearms licence has expired, has unexpectedly discovered a gun while clearing out a house, or decides they no longer want to keep a lawfully held firearm.

Police have no idea how many weapons may be handed in, though they say it is unlikely to be anywhere near as high as other gun amnesties. Last year in Australia, some 51,000 firearms were handed to police. 

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “Anybody surrendering a firearm or other relevant item during Police Scotland’s two-week campaign will not be prosecuted for simple possession of the item.

“The immunity only applies to handover of the weapon and not to any other offence it may be linked to after examination.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson welcomed the amnesty.

He said: “Firearms offences are at historically low levels in Scotland. Nonetheless, there is always a risk that unused or unlicensed firearms could fall into the wrong hands.

“I therefore welcome Police Scotland’s campaign to remove unwanted weapons from our communities, and would urge anyone who has a firearm that they have no good reason for keeping to take this opportunity to safely surrender it to the police.”

Press Association

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Councils call on government to increase funding after thousands of children with special needs left without school places

Dozens of councils across the country have called on the education secretary to urgently boost special needs funding as thousands of children have been left at home waiting for school places.

Parents have been forced to quit their jobs – and in some have waited for several years for a place in the right provision – to ensure their child with special needs is supported, experts say. 

Local authorities have said they are “deeply concerned” that funding cuts are making it even more difficult to place children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in schools. 

A letter – signed by 39 local authorities and education unions – calls for councils and schools to be given more money to make sure that children with SEND get the support they need. “We urge the government to act quickly on this matter,” the letter, which is addressed to Damian Hinds, says. 

The number of youngsters with special educational needs, plans or statements has been rising – as has the demand for special school places. Meanwhile, funding pressures have made it harder for schools and local authorities to provide specialist provision to the most vulnerable learners.   

More than 2,000 children with complex needs have “no education provision at all” due to inadequate funding, according to the new letter – which is backed by some Conservative-led councils. 

Jo-Ann D’Costa Manuel, director of charity Autism Parent Empower, said she knows of parents whose children have been at home for two years while they wait for the right specialist school place.

“When they are left at home on a waiting list, even if they are provided some help, they become wasted years,” she said. “It is hugely wasted time and opportunity for them to progress.”

Ms D’Costa Manuel, who has a nine-year-old son with autism, told The Independent that some parents have resorted to home schooling their children because they feel “failed by the system”.

“A lot of parents are not equipped to homeschool their children. They cannot suddenly become teachers or teaching assistants and know what to do,” she warned. 

Some parents have been put in an “impossible position” and have been forced to quit their jobs to look after their children, according to Andrew Baisley, from the National Education Union (NEU). 

And in other cases, parents have seen their children with SEND repeatedly being passed between mainstream schools because of funding and accountability pressures on staff, he added. 

“I think it is harder to get kids into mainstream schools because there is a massive financial disincentive and there is an enormous accountability disincentive,” Mr Baisley said. 

Last month, schools minister Nick Gibb said judging schools on the education outcomes of students they have moved on could help tackle the rising number of schoolchildren being excluded

It came after special educational needs experts called for excluded children and parents to be protected by a “bill of rights”, giving them better scrutiny of a school’s decision to get rid of them.

Nancy Gedge, a coordinator of special needs provision in a school in Oxfordshire, told The Independent that she thinks increasing funding alone will not solve the problems in the sector.   

Ms Gedge, who has a 17-year-old son with Down’s syndrome, said a culture shift was needed to ensure families with children with special needs were treated fairly throughout the process. 

“It almost feels like you are being constantly punished for daring to have a disabled baby. It feels like you are constantly dealing with brickbats thrown in your direction,” she said.   

The Department for Education announced last month it was allocating £50m for the expansion of special schools – but unions and councils say it “will not solve the long-term challenges” they face.

Nadhim Zawahi, minister for children and families, said: “We want to make sure every child with special educational needs gets the support that they rightly deserve. The high-needs budget for pupils with special educational needs is £6bn this year – the highest on record, with core schools funding rising to £43.5bn by 2020 – 50 per cent more per pupil in real terms than in 2000. 

“We are also undertaking the biggest special educational needs reforms in a generation, introducing education and health care plans that are tailored to the needs of individuals and put families at the heart of the process. 

“Already, nearly 320,000 children and young people are benefiting from these and we will continue to work to make sure every child gets the support they need to fulfil their potential.”

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