Category Archives: UK

Same sex couples say, “I do”

Same sex marriages became legal in England and Wales on 29th March, 2014 at midnight.

The law

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force in July 2013Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 22.21.49 in England and Wales. Couples could register their intention from 13th March, 2014 onwards that legalises same-sex marriage starting 29th March, 2014.

Before, 29th March, same sex couples had the option of getting into a civil partnership that became legal in 2005 under the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland was passed in February 2014 by the Scottish Parliament. The legislation received the Royal Assent on 12th March, 2014. The first same-sex marriage in Scotland will start in Autumn 2014.

The first couples in England and Wales

Peter McGraith and David Cabreza spent 17 years together before being among the first same sex couple to tie the knot in London on the night of 29th March. The wedding took place at Islington Town Hall. Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell acted as the chief witness to the ceremony.

Also vying for the title of the first same sex couple to wed in Britain were Andrew Wale and Neil Allard from Brighton.

The first Asian same sex couple to get married were Subodh Rathod and Niranjan Kamatkar who got married at the Wood Green Civic Centre in North London. They streamed their ceremony live.

David Cameron on gay marriages

“This weekend is an important moment for our country,” said British PM David Cameron on the PinkNews website. The rainbow flag flew above Whitehall today.

“I am proud that we have made same sex marriage happen. I am delighted that the love two people have for each other – and the commitment they want to make – can now be recognised as equal. I have backed this reform because I believe in commitment, responsibility and family. I don’t want to see people’s love divided by law,” said Cameron in July last year.


The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 preserves the Canon Law of the Church of England which states that marriage should take place between the opposite sex only. Queen Elizabeth who is the head of the Church of England gave her Royal Assent to the act on 17th July, 2013.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the Church had accepted the new law and would continue to demonstrate “the love of Christ for every human being”. However, same-sex marriages are not currently taking place in the Church of England.

Northern Island currently does not intend to legalise same-sex marriages.


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David Cameron promises to back the curry industry

Fewer curry chefs are spoiling the broth. Enam Ali MBE, David Cameron and chefs at British Curry Awards 2013The £3.6bn curry industry in the UK is facing an acute shortage of South Asian chefs due to strict immigration rules for non-EU nationals.

The curry crisis

The Home Office has set a minimum requirement of that all Indian immigrants must be able to speak English, be educated at NVQ level four with five years work experience at a post graduate level and be paid a minimum salary of £28,260 which most curry houses cannot afford to pay.

According to the immigration policy, locals are being trained to work in curry houses but it is not easy for those donning the apron. Most EU workers are reluctant to work in Indian restaurants, as they are unable to understand the basics of Indian cuisine and spices.

The government has been floating the idea of starting curry colleges to train local workers to work in the curry industry in a move to fix the shortage.

According to Spice Business, there are 10,000 curry restaurants in the UK that employ about 80,000 people.

This has led to a large gap in the kitchen where the demand for skilled curry chefs has increased but the supply is dwindling.

Cameron’s promise

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to back the curry industry at the British Curry Awards ceremony in London.

“Let me promise you this. We will work through this together. We will continue to help you get the skilled Asian chefs that you need. And we will also work with you to train up the next generation of home grown chefs,” said Cameron.

Promoting the curry industry

The British Curry Awards also known as the Curry Oscars was started in 2005 by British entrepreneur and restauranter Eman Ali. He has been promoting the British curry industry globally for the last 30 years.

“The British Curry has established itself as an international cuisine in its own right and a standalone culinary genre which has produced dishes such as the onion bhaji, the dhansak, the chicken tikka masala, the rogan josh, the chicken phall and the balti,” said Ali.

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UK mums to be paid to breastfeed

New mums are being offered up to £200 in shopping vouchers in a bid to promote breastfeeding.

 A pilot scheme

An initial amount of £120 in shopping vouchers will be doled out if babies are fed naturally until they are six weeks old. Mothers will receive an additional £80 in shopping vouchers if they continue to breastfeed until their babies reach six months.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield are collaborating with experts in infant feeding research at the University of Dundee and health economics at Brunel University. The study is called Nourishing Start for Health that is being funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative.

The trial will involve 130 mothers in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire where breastfeeding is low. If this is successful, the scheme will later be rolled out to the rest of England.


There is no way to verify that babies are indeed being breastfed. However, mothers participating in this scheme have to fill in a form and the form has to be signed by midwives and health visitors to confirm that the baby has been breastfed.

The vouchers are meant to be used at high street shops and supermarkets. There is no system in place that would ensure that mothers don’t misuse the vouchers to buy alcohol and cigarettes.

Benefits of breastfeeding

Dr Clare Relton, principal investigator from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), said: “Babies who are breastfed have fewer health problems such as upset tummies and chest infections, and are less likely to develop diabetes and obesity when they are older,”

For more information on breastfeeding, please click here


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UK remembers its Veterans

Today is Armistice Day, a memorial day to remember those who died during World War I. The hostility formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1919.

Commemoration in the UK

remembrance_poppyIn the UK, two minutes of silence is observed on 11th November at 11:00 am. The beginning and end of the two minutes silence is marked by the firing of the ceremonial cannon.

The national commemoration is at The Cenotaph at Whitehall in London. The Royal British Legion organises wreath-laying ceremonies at most war memorials across the UK.

Remembrance poppy

The remembrance poppy has been used to commemorate soldiers who died in the war. The Royal British Legion organises a fundraising drive called the “Poppy Appeal” to support former and current British military personnel.

A few weeks before Remembrance Sunday, the Royal British Legion offer artificial poppies to the public meant to be worn on clothing in exchange for donation.

The Poppy Girls

For the first time in 2013, the Poppy Girls, which is an all girl group, formed from armed forces family released their Poppy Appeal single ‘The Call (No need to say Goodbye)” on Remembrance Sunday. The song is the official anthem for the 2013 Poppy Appeal.

The band is formed of Megan Adams, Florence Ransom, Alice Milburn, Bethany Davy and Charlotte Mellor whose fathers are currently serving in the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. The girls were shortlisted from over 1000 contenders.

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UK government scraps £3000 visa bond

The UK government’s decision to scrap the £3000 visa bond comes as a sign of relief for India and other countries termed as “high risk”.

The bond

In a bid to tackling illegal immigration, the UK Home Office had announced its intention to pilot a scheme to charge a bond of £3000 to adult nationals of six countries intending to visit the UK. The countries termed as “high risk” were India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria.

This scheme was due to run for 12 months starting from November 2013. The bond payment would be returned if the visitor returned to their home country after the visit visa expires.

Australia and New Zealand have similar schemes where financial bonds are applied to visitors in order to mitigate the risk of them overstaying their visa.

This scheme sparked outrage in India and received criticism from several ministers and agencies.

Scrapping the scheme

On scrapping the scheme, the CII said, “The Confederation of Indian Industry welcomes the move by UK government to withdraw the pilot scheme of £3000 visa bonds for visitors from 6 countries including India.

‘These unfair and discriminatory measures would have alienated settled communities in the UK, making it very difficult for family and friends to visit,” said British MP Virendra Sharma.

MP Keith Vaz said, “The Home Secretary is right to shelve the bond proposals. Unfortunately the damage has already been done to our relationship with India. During this shambolic process the Home Office has managed to upset a number of foreign governments and confuse millions of potential visitors.”

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Storm warning for England and Wales

The Met Office has issued an amber alert of high winds in southern Wales, southern England, the Midlands, the East, London and the South East on Sunday night into Monday morning.

The warning

An amber alert means ‘be prepared’. People have been warned about the likelihood of falling trees, damaged to homes and buildings and winds up to 80 mph leading to power outages by bringing down power lines. These winds could be stronger along the coasts.

Steve Willington, Chief Forecaster at the Met Office, said: “We are talking about a storm which doesn’t yet exist, so there remains some uncertainty about its possible timing, track and strength. However, several forecasts models currently suggest we will see a significant storm with exceptionally strong winds impacting parts of England and Wales.”

Forecaster claim that this storm could be as strong as the great storm of 1987 and the Burns Day storm in 1990.

“This is a developing situation and we’d advise people to stay up to date with our forecasts and warnings over the weekend, and be prepared to change their plans if necessary,” adds Willington.

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The Storm

A low pressure system will deepen to the South West of the UK before moving across the country.

The storm is currently brewing over the Atlantic. Due to this storm, heavy rain is expected in some parts of the country.

The storm is expected to develop in the western Atlantic on Saturday. Two storms currently over the Gulf of Mexico and the North American Great Lakes are expected to move out to sea and merge.

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Malala wins Anna Politkovskaya Award

Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai wins the RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War) Anna Politkovskaya Award for women human rights defenders from war and conflict.

The Award

Malala defied the strict ban imposed by the TalibanMalala Yousafzai on girls attending school. She was only 15-years-old when she was shot in the head by the Taliban on 9th October, 2012 for campaigning for education for girls.

“I am extremely proud to have been chosen to receive an award, which bears Anna’s name and hope that I may be as brave as she was. I greatly admire Anna’s dedication to truth, to equality, and to humanity,” said Malala Yousafzai.

The Anna Politjovskaya Award is being presented by 104-year-old British humanitarian Sir Nicholas Winton in London on 4th October. Malala and Sir Nicholas are the oldest and youngest persons ever nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

Other honours

Following her attack, Malala was flown in to Birmingham for treatment and made a remarkable recovery in March 2013.

Malala is one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2013 by the Time magazine. She is the first Pakistani girl to be nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

She is also the winner of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, the Simone de Beauvior Prize and has been honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award and Harvard University’s humanitarian of the year.

This year, on her birthday, 12th July, Malala spoke to the UN to call for worldwide access to education.

The Malala Fund

Following the outpouring of support that Malala received throughout her ordeal, she set up an international fund, the Malala Fund, which is dedicated to help promote education for girls throughout the world.

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Royal Mail to be sold

Royal Mail shares are now available for sale either online or through an intermediary or through a paper application pack from the Post Office. Each share is being sold at the price of between 260 pence and 330 pence.

Royal Mail Ownershiproyal mail

Up to 150,000 eligible UK-based Royal Mail employees will own 10% of the shares.

The offer comprises between 401 million (40.1%) and 522 million (52.2.%) shares that will be sold to private investors and the general public under the privatisation proposal. The minimum application for the public wishing to purchase shares will be £750 and £500 for Royal Mail employees.

The government’s holding in Royal Mail is expected to be between approximately 37.8% and 49.9%.

The last day for application is 8 October 2013.

Vince Cable, Business Secretary, said: “Today is an important day in the life of Royal Mail: people can now apply to buy shares in this iconic British brand.”

The privatisation won’t affect the Post Office as it is a separate company.

Why is Royal Mail being privatised?

Royal Mail is in need of private capital to invest in innovation, capture opportunities in new markets and compete with other players. The increase in online shopping means increase in the number of parcel deliveries. Similarly, with the convenience of email, delivery of letters has decreased.

The controversies

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) represents the non-managerial staff of the Royal Mail.

Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary said, “Royal Mail is profitable and can continue to be successful in the public sector. The sale is driven by political dogma, not economic necessity, and postal workers and the CWU will continue to fight to save services as well as defend their terms and conditions.”

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London Open House this weekend

On 21st and 22nd September many doors in London usually closed, inaccessible or priced will open up their doors to the public for free. This year, there are over 800 buildings open to the public.

What is Open House weekend?

London open houseOpen House is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes public awareness and awareness and appreciation of building design and architecture. The tours are guided and the guides are volunteers.

This is part of the Open House Worldwide where a similar concept exists in several countries like USA (New York and Chicago), Ireland (Dublin, Limerick and Galway), Israel (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), Finland (Helsinki), Australia (Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane), Spain (Barcelona), Slovenia, Italy (Rome), Portugal (Lisbon), Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Greece (Thessaloniki) Gdansk-Sopot-Gdynia in Poland, Athens in Greece, San Diego in USA and Vienna in Austria will join the Open House in 2014.

“Open House is a unique and vibrant annual event, offering people across London the chance to explore and learn about the capital’s architecture,” said Victoria Thornton, Founding Director of Open City.

How to access the buildings

Some buildings are booked via ballots while some have to be pre-booked in advance. However, a vast majority of the buildings are on first come first served basis.

People from different parts of the UK and Europe camp around popular sites to as these sites witness serpentine queues. Some of these sites include 30 St Mary Axe also knows as The Gherkin, Tower 42, Bank of England, Battersea Power Station, the Crossrail Liverpool Street Construction Site, City Hall and others.

The Highlights

The theme this year is “Celebrating architecture, people and place”.

The highlights are 10 Downing Street, The View from the Shard, London Eye and Gray’s Inn, the booking of which has been done through a ballot. The Olympic park has also been opened to the public this year.

“Open House London gives people the chance to explore some of London’s most unique and celebrated buildings. As the official residence and office of British Prime Ministers since 1735, Number 10 Downing Street is a truly historic address. I’m delighted to be opening up the famous black door for the first time this year,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Guide

The Open House London Guide provides a comprehensive list of buildings, tours, expert-led walks and other activities.

Open House Junior contains lists of events for children.

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Scotland: In or Out?

Exactly a year from today, Scotland will hold a referendum to decide its independence from the United Kingdom.

The big question

The question to be asked at the referendum will be “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0

An agreement was signed on 15 October 2012 by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland. This agreement provides the legal framework for the referendum.

The referendum bill setting out the arrangements was put forward on 21 March 2013.

Who gets to vote?

Everyone above the age of 16 who lives in Scotland is eligible to vote. This means that the 800,000 Scots living in other parts of the UK will not be eligible to vote.

Eligibility to vote will also include members of the armed forces serving overseas who are registered to vote in Scotland.

What happens after Scotland gets a “Yes” vote?

If Scotland gets a “Yes” vote, the Scottish “Independence Day” will be in March 2016 just before the start of the May 2016 Scottish election campaign. Scotland will get its own written constitution.

Scotland will retain cultural ties with the UK and will join the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union and the NATO. The British monarch will be the ceremonial Head of State in Scotland as is the case with Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Scotland will continue to retain the pound sterling currency.

The Scottish National Party objects to having nuclear weapons on Scottish territory. However, Scotland will inherit the naval base of Faslane in the Firth of Clyde and the Trident Nuclear Missile System at Coulport.

The Scottish economy

Opinion polls have indicated that Scotland would perform better economically as an independent state. The public spending in Scotland is higher than England but Scotland also produces higher tax revenue compared to the UK average mainly due to production of oil from the North Sea.

The research paper Scotland Analysis: Macroeconomic and fiscal performance states that Scotland’s economic performance is stronger because it forms a part of the UK.

If Scotland becomes independent, a proportion of the UK national debt will be inherited, thereby starting a new nation with existing debt.

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