Everyone’s been busy picking over the detail of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget this week.
But the news never stops, and a few big stories have been unfolding that are not connected to Phil’s spreadsheets.
Here are three.
1, A near-40% rise in ‘excess deaths’ among the elderly last winter
New figures have shown a staggering 39.5% increase in excess winter deaths compared with last year.
Respiratory diseases, including flu, claimed thousands of lives of elderly people last winter as the excess winter death toll reached the second highest level in eight years.
It comes as the NHS was braced for a strain on its services as the colder months start to bite.
Jodie Withers, at the Office for National Statistics, said excess winter deaths had last peaked in 2014/15, and added: “The increase is likely due to the predominant strain of flu prevalent during the 2016 to 2017 winter which had greater impact on the elderly than the young.”
2, ‘Difficult Children’ Are Being Excluded From Schools Just Before Their GCSEs
Headteachers are using pupil referral units as a “safety valve” to get rid of the “most difficult children” just before they take their GCSEs, a Commons committee heard.
Parliament’s Education Select Committee has begun its inquiry into ‘alternative provision’ – that’s a section of education which covers settings like pupil referral units (PRUs) – amid concern about the rising number of pupil exclusions from mainstream schools.
Local authorities recorded a rise in permanent exclusion rates anywhere between 25% and 300% last year, and MPs are concerned some teachers are using alternative provision to improve their league position by getting low-achieving pupils off the school books.
Professor David Berridge, professor of child and family welfare and the University of Bristol, gave evidence to the committee, adding that he was concerned children in care were being sent to PRUs.
He said the pressure of Ofsted inspections and achieving good exam results coupled with more autonomy for headteachers had led to the rise.
Berridge said most teachers cared deeply about their pupils but he described alternative provision as a “safety valve” for the system, adding: “Many children are moving to alternative provision at Key Stage 4 [just before GCSEs], which is worrying. PRUs are seen as a ‘safety valve’ for the system to remove the most difficult children.”
Just 1% of pupils in alternative provision achieved good GCSEs results in English and Maths last year.
Speaking after the session, chair of the committee, Tory MP Robert Halfon, said: “It is concerning that growing numbers of children are being excluded from school and, once in alternative provision, students appear to make poor progress and are far less likely to achieve good exam results.
“In our evidence session, we heard about perverse incentives for schools to exclude children who could damage their league table position. Over the coming months, the inquiry will look at the purpose of alternative provision.”
3, Justice cutbacks are coming back to bite the Government
A new report into one jail – HMP Northumberland – underlined the impact of cutbacks to the justice budget.
Violence has more than doubled while the number of prison officers at the jail halved since it was privatised in 2013 to save cash.
A new report by Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, found 58% of prisoners felt unsafe at some time and 28% felt unsafe when an inspection took place in July – “a very high figure by any standards,” said Clarke.
Since the 1,300-inmate jail was taken out of public hands, its frontline staff has shrunk from 441 to 192. Violence has also risen by 202% against an average uplift of 77% in all UK jails over the same period.
An alarming 61% of inmates questioned as part of the report also said it was “easy or very easy” to get drugs.
It comes as a Parliamentary Question by Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon revealed the Ministry of Justice budget will suffer a real terms decrease of 40% in the decade to 2020.
He said: “Despite government claims that it is addressing the deep problems in our prisons and reviewing legal aid provision, cuts on this scale mean that our justice system looks set to go from repeated crisis to a full blown emergency.”