The Horizon Post Office scandal is one of the most terrible injustices our country has ever seen. I don’t know about you, but I watched all the episodes of the excellent ITV drama ’Mr. Bates v the Post Office’ with increasing incredulity and anger. How could this have possibly happened?
What really came across were two things.
First, this was an organisation that did not want to admit that anything was wrong with its computer system, even when it started to become clear that there were problems. And worse still, they told each sub-postmaster that they were the only one who had ‘missing money’ when we now know that there were hundreds of them.
And second, if you want to right a wrong, you need to keep going and never give up. That is how, in the end, the sub-postmasters won their campaign.
The Government has finally announced that it will bring forward legislation to remove all of the convictions and to compensate all of those affected. This cannot happen soon enough so that justice can finally be served.
And there is a wider issue here about organisations that won’t admit to mistakes and then try to suppress the truth. It should not be the case that people have to wait for years for the facts to emerge. One thing that would help would be better protection for whistleblowers – those brave people who are prepared to speak out.
Apart from the loving care of our parents and families, it is going to school and learning that helps to give us self-confidence and aspiration. I was really shocked, therefore, to read recently that in the spring and autumn terms of last year over 1.5 million children (that’s one in five) were persistently absent from both primary and secondary school. This was more than double the number who were absent during the same terms five years ago. A child is deemed persistently absent if they miss 10 per cent of lessons or more.
These figures are awful. How has this absence crisis in schools been able to spiral out of control? There are many reasons, including the after-effects of Covid, but a really sensible first step would be to put together a list of children who are being taught at home by their parents. We don’t have this information at the moment, so we don’t know which children ought to be in school.
Furthermore, the health of our children and young people is determined by a range of factors. Education of course, but also family income, housing and the presence of a stable and loving family all influence young people’s wellbeing.
Children and young people from the poorest 20% of households are, however, four times more likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 than those living in more affluent households, and poverty levels in West Yorkshire are much higher than the England average. The Child of the North report also indicates that our children missed more schooling during lockdown, as well as being more likely to be in care and lonelier, than children in other areas of England.
These are all reasons why going to school every day really is good for our children.
I had a very interesting visit to Vallely Tankers the other day. They have recently moved to Pepper Road and I had been invited to open their new premises. They design and make specialist vehicle tankers for the waste management and environmental industries.
I learned a lot as I saw how the tanks themselves are made out of a rolled sheet of stainless steel which is then welded. It’s precision engineering that is true to the industrial heritage of Hunslet, and another example of what you find out when you walk into a building that you’ve driven past many times, and discover what actually happens in there!
“Out of the mouths of babes”goes the saying. In this case, it was out of the mouths of a group of wonderful children from Ingram Road Primary School who recently came on a visit to the House of Commons. They had been looking at how legislation is made so I explained that for a Bill to become law it has to receive what’s known as Royal Assent – ie when the King approves a piece of legislation. Nowadays this is a formality – no British monarch has vetoed a Bill since Queen Anne in 1708 – but the words spoken are in Norman French – “Le Roy le veult” which means “The King wishes it.”
This then got us on to a discussion about William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings, and the Domesday Book. Somehow we moved on to the German bomb that destroyed the chamber of the House of Commons in 1941 which led to an an explanation on my part as to what the World War II was all about. It wasn’t quite what I had been expecting, but the pupils sermed really interested.
The highlight, however, was towards the end when one pupil put her hand up and said very quietly. “I don’t mean to be rude, but how old are you?” I said it wasn’t rude at all and asked her to guess. She hesitated for a moment and then said “34?” I was deeply flattered. Lots of other guesses followed including one pupil who thought I might be 80. When I eventually revealed that I’m three score years and ten, I got the distinct impression that anyone over the age of 20 seemed old to them.
While you’re here, can we ask a favour?
South Leeds Life is published by a not-for-profit social enterprise. We keep our costs as low as possible but we’ve been hit by increases in the print costs for our monthly newspaper which have doubled in the last two years.
Could you help support local community news by making a one off donation, or even better taking out a supporters subscription?
Donate here, or sign up for a subscription at bit.ly/SLLsubscribe