Thursday, 2 February 2017

Rise in service veterans on our streets prompts questions from Morecambe MP David Morris

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has challenged the government on the number of homeless military service veterans on the streets in the UK - and the response led us to figures that depict a shocking rise in homeless numbers in the North West - and veterans suffering mental health issues.

In a written question to the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Morris asked what estimate his Department has made of the number of (a) homeless veterans and (b) veterans experiencing mental health problems; and whether each of those issues is supported by the Armed Forces Covenant.

In response, Mark Lancaster provided a link to an earlier response on homeless veteran numbers provided by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Local Government Marcus Jones made to Liverpool MP Luciana Berger in 10 November 2016.

Noting "one person without a home is too many" and that "homelessness robs families of their future, safety and self-worth," Mr Jones reported that, according to data gathered by the Greater London Authority some three per cent of individuals seen sleeping rough in London alone are UK nationals with a history of service in the armed forces.

(A search for those recent figures for Greater London reveals that between October to December 2016, outreach teams for CHAIN - a multi agency database recording information about rough sleepers and the wider street population in London - recorded 1,299 people in London sleeping rough for the first time. Of these, 1,022 (79%) spent just one night sleeping rough,  241 (19%) slept rough for more than one night but did not go on to live on the streets, and  36 (3%) were deemed to be living on the streets).

"This is still too high, and no way to treat our veterans, said Mr Jones. "We are committed to fight for all those who have fought for us. All local authorities in England are signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant, ensuring they support the needs of their armed forces communities. We have committed over £500 million to tackle homelessness over the next four years as set out at the last Spending Review."

Homelessness charity Crisis notes there is no national figure for how many people are homeless across the UK. This is because homelessness is recorded differently in each nation and because many homeless people do not show up in official statistics at all.

However, according to the latest national figures, collected in the autumn of 2016 and published in January 2017, 4,134 people are estimated to be sleeping rough nationally on any one night.

Using data from four sets of official 2016 statistics to compile what it describes as a "conservative" total, last December the charity Shelter estimated more than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England, although the government challenges the findings.

If three percent of the homeless are service veterans in London alone, this means there could be up to 7500 homeless veterans nationally.

Homeless Link's analysis of the data indicates this was an increase of 16% from 2015 to 2016, while since 2010 rough sleeping estimates show an increase of 134%.

While the East of England has seen the biggest percentage increase in rough sleeping since last year (44%), this is followed by the North West (42%), the East  Midlands (23%) and the North East (18%), all of which have seen increases in rough sleeping above the national average.

Shelter's estimated total number of people recorded as being homeless in the North West suggest some 3953 people are living in temporary accommodation, 220 are rough sleeping, 1782 are in homeless hostels, 318 are in social services temporary accommodation - totalling 6,273 people in all.

That suggests around 190 homeless could be service veterans in the North West.

In 2016, the government renewed action tackling the homeless, giving support to the Homelessness Reduction Bill, to reform England’s homelessness legislation and ensure that more people get the help they need to prevent a homelessness crisis in the first place.

They also announced a £40 million Homelessness Prevention Programme to ensure there is an end-to-end approach to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, and provide the support people need to recover from homelessness.

Mental Health Issues for Veterans on the Rise

Last month, the Ministry of Defence announced 473 soldiers were discharged from the Armed Forces for “mental or behavioural” reasons in 2015-16.

Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress noted the figures revealed by the Ministry of Defence showing increasing numbers of service personnel leaving the Armed Forces with medical discharges is also echoed by the charity's data.

"We have found a rise in the number of veterans seeking support from Combat Stress after being medically discharged from the military," she said.

“In the last five years we have seen a 71% increase in veterans seeking support for mental health issues and that they are seeking support more quickly. While the reasons for this are unclear, it could be due to the reduction in stigma that is resulting in more ex-servicemen and women feeling able to come forward for treatment and sooner. It could also be that we are starting to see a small but significant increase in the number of veterans with mental health issues."

"In the UK, primary responsibility for the provision of healthcare, including mental healthcare, for veterans rests with the NHS in England and the Devolved Administrations," noted Mark Lancaster this week in his response to Mr Morris. "The Ministry of Defence provides advice, information and signposting to support services for veterans though its Veterans UK web pages and free telephone helpline service.

"We encourage veterans wishing to seek help with mental health problems to visit: or call the 24-hour veterans' mental health helpline on 0800 138 1619.

"The £10 million per annum Covenant Fund makes grants to support the Armed Forces community and has funded projects across all four countries in the UK to support veterans with complex needs," he added. "This includes grants made through the Veterans in the Criminal Justice System programme; and the Veterans Gateway programme."

Due to launch later this year, the £2 million Veterans Gateway programme will help veterans find and access advice and support on a broad range of issues, including healthcare and housing. This new service will provide a 24/7 phone number, a dedicated website and a mobile app.

Lancashire & District Homeless Action Service

Lancaster and District Homeless Action service (LDHAS) is the leading homeless charity in the Lancaster region

Combat Stress

Veterans mental health charity. 24-hour Helpline (0800 138 1619)

Greater London Homeless Figures - PDF

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 1st to 9th February 2017

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

We have gained three new movies this period but six films vanished from the local screens. The new releases are science fiction with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (15); horror in Rings (15) and comedy animation in the family movie The Lego Batman Movie (U).

Films that have disappeared from the cinemas include Assassin's Creed; Fantastic Beasts and where to find them; Moana; Passengers; Storks and Sully. in addition the following movies are approaching the end of their screening, A monster Calls; Arrival; Collateral Beauty; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.

Drama this period comes with psychological crises in Collateral Beauty and Split. There is family loss in Lion & Manchester by the Sea; Reunion and self destruction in T2 Trainspotting; action with xXX: The Return of Xander Cage and biographical war drama in Hacksaw Ridge. Also crime comes with Goodfellas & Live by Night whereas political biography is represented buy Jackie.

Science fiction comes with Arrivals; Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Rogue One: A Star wars Story. We also have the new horror horror Rings.

On a lighter note, there is still the excellent musical romance La La Land.

For family entertainment consider A Monster Calls; Ballerina; Sing; The Lego Batman Movie; The Secret Life of Pets and Trolls.

Finally the following satisfy any need for high culture: Bolshoi Ballet: Swan Lake; National Theatre Live: Amadeus and The Royal Ballet:Woolf Works.


La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

Mia (Stone) works as a barista during the day but aspires to be an actress. She is involved in a road rage incident with Sebastian (Gosling) a jazz pianist. The two subsequently meet again and start to fall for each other as they try to satisfy their ambitions, she attending auditions and he playing in dingy bars as he plans to open his own jazz club. However the daily drudge of trying to live their dreams starts to take its toll. This movie, set in modern day Los Angeles, is brilliantly written and very well acted. Excellent musical entertainment.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Director: Paul W S Anderson
Certificate; 15
Cast Includes: Milla Jovovich

The movie is a sequel to the 2012 Resident Evil: Retribution and forms the sixth and final film in the series. Alice (Jovovich) has lost her psychic powers and now is assisted by the Red Queen who has switched sides. She returns to the demolished Raccoon City where, with a band of survivors, she has one last battle with the Umbrella Corporation and myriads of mutants and zombies. This reviewer has greatly enjoyed the Resident Evil Movie series and can recommend the Final Chapter as offering more of the same special effects and fight sequences. However the film is not the best of the bunch and the franchise is now starting to feel a little tired. See it if you are a Resident Evil fan.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Certificate: PG
Cast includes: Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Felicity Jones

This movie is set just before the events of the original Star Wars. There are rumours circulating that the Galactic Empire are about to construct a horrendous new weapon, a 'Death Star' designed by Galen Erso (Mikkelson) A small team of rebels led by his daughter Jyn Erso (Jones) and Cassian Ander (Luna) strive to find the designer and steal the design schematics. The movie hosts new and familiar aliens who strive to 'use the force' and it comes with breathtaking special effects. This is more gritty that the familiar star wars offering, more of a war move with a higher body count and more muddied ethics. The movie has been well received and will delight audiences. It breaks new ground from the classic Star Wars, but only just.

T2 Trainspotting
Director: Danny Boyle
Certificate: 18
Cast includes: Ewen McGreger, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Anjela Nedyalkova

Mark Renton (McGregor) returns to Edinburgh after twenty years in Amsterdam and finds his old associates are still much as he left them only older. Spud Murphy (Bremner) continues to struggle with heroin addiction. Simon 'Sick Boy' (Lee Miller) nurses old grievances and has swapped a heroin addiction for cocaine. He plans to turn a run down pub onto a bordello. Francis Begbie (Carlyle) is serving a prison sentence, but he escapes. He still harbours a grievance against Renton. The movie is part black comedy, part thriller and total melancholic drama that draws on Welsh's 1993 novel and the 2002 sequel Porno. This is an inventive and vibrant film that captures the spirit of the original. Excellent viewing.

The Secret Life of Pets
Director: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Louis C.K., Ellie Kemper, Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart

A family animation film that follows the lives of pets living in a Manhattan apartment building during the time their owners leave them alone. Max (Louis) is a rather spoilt terrier who starts to find himself neglected when his owner Katie (Kemper) brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a mongrel, from a dog pound. However the two dogs must put their rivalry behind them when they are captured by Snowball (Hart) a rabbit and an army of abandoned pets who are trying to get back at all happily owned pets and their owners. This is a delightful and energetic animation movie that is inoffensive and fun for all, young and old.

New partnership aspires to support excellence in social work education and practice in Cumbria

Members of the new Cumbria-Lancaster Social Work Teaching Partnership: Front row from left to right: Jane Pye (Lancaster University), Sonyia Curran (Cumbria County Council).  Back row from left to right: Professor Karen Broadhurst (Lancaster University), Nick Waterfield (Cumbria County Council) and Richard Simpson (Barnardo's)

A new social work teaching partnership will support ambitious plans to further develop social work education and practice across the region, following a successful bid to the Department for Education to secure two-year funding.

The Cumbria-Lancaster Social Work Teaching Partnership includes Lancaster University, Cumbria County Council and four allied organisations from the private, voluntary and / or independent sector in Cumbria - Barnardo’s, South Lakeland District Carers, Howgill Family Centre and East Cumbria Family Support.

The partnership starts with immediate effect and work has already started on the programme of reform.

Existing staff will contribute to the implementation plan and three dedicated practice development workers will be recruited to work between the university and the council to lead the changes and developments.

The partnership aims to ensure more people with the right skills; experience and professionalism are recruited to qualifying programmes and take up posts with Cumbria County Council and allied partners.

It also seeks to increase the quantity and quality of practice placements to ensure that more Lancaster University students experience two statutory placements, to better prepare students for employment after graduation.

The partnership also hopes to bring the university and the council into closer alignment, to ensure that qualifying and post-qualifying education meets the needs of employers and improves the retention of qualified workers.

The partnership will also seek to increase the involvement of the council and partners in classroom- based learning and in student recruitment; ensure the Chief Social Worker’s Knowledge and Skills Statements are embedded in knowledge and practice; develop a shared understanding and datasets concerning workforce needs to inform forecasting and planning (recruitment, retention, training needs); and to promote evidence-based practice and embedding of research in practice.

The teaching partnership will establish learning hubs in the North, West and South of Cumbria that will become the focal point for academic, practice and service user exchange and the vehicle for student support.

The hubs will align with the Cumbria Social Work Academy.

“This is an excellent opportunity to work more closely with our Cumbria partners and to showcase developments nationally," commented Professor Karen Broadhurst, of Lancaster University. "Cumbria’s expansive rural context does present some challenge in terms of both student placement and reaching a qualified workforce and we are keen to explore how these challenges can be overcome.”

“The teaching partnership will enable us to work closely with Lancaster University and our partners to have clear practice focussed, professional career development pathways," added John Macilwraith, Director of Children’s Services at Cumbria County Council, "so that students are better prepared for the transition from University, into our social work academy.

“We will also develop comprehensive development programmes for all our social workers to reach their full potential so that we retain talented social workers in Cumbria.”


Robbery at Heysham petrol station

BP Garage, Oxcliffe Road. Image: Google
Local police are appealing for information following a robbery at a petrol station in Heysham.

The incident happened shortly before midnight last night (Tuesday 31st January 2017) when two men wearing balaclavas entered the BP petrol station on Oxcliffe Road.

One of the men remained at the door while the other man approached the counter and threatened the staff member with what is believed to be a handgun. The member of staff handed over approximately £300 in cash from the till before both men left the scene.

They are thought to have fled to the rear of the garage and over a fence leading to an alleyway and on to Willacy Parade.

Both men are described as wearing dark clothing. One of them was described as 5ft 9in tall and was wearing a waterproof type top.

DI Phil Jones of Lancaster CID said: “An investigation into this robbery is underway and we are conducting house to house enquiries in the area.

"We are keen to hear from anyone who may have witnessed anyone acting suspiciously between the times of 11.45pm and shortly after midnight last night. If you have any information that could assist with our enquiries then please contact us as soon as possible.”

• Anyone with information can contact police on 101 quoting log 1473 of 31st January. Alternatively independent charity Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at