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Archive for March 2013

Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 17/3/2013


Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!


When I first heard of the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ I imagined it to be something kinky (or perhaps it was wishful thinking), a silly joke on social media. The reality, however, was less amusing and far more sinister. The new rules, due to come into effect in April, will affect housing benefit, which is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week. This change will affect council tenants and those who rent from housing associations, who are housing benefit claimants. The government estimates that 655,000 households will have their benefit cut.

social housing

The ‘bedroom tax’ will penalise households in social housing deemed to have more bedrooms than they require. Under the government’s so-called “size criteria” (how do you decide what is the ‘right’ amount of space a person needs?) families will be assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need.

The government says that it is a necessary policy to get the £23bn housing budget under control and that the savings to the taxpayer ‘will amount to £505m in 2012-13′, and ‘£540m in the year after’.


That’s the theory anyway, but reality doesn’t quite work like that, as there is no way the local authorities will be able to move everyone around and put them in the ‘right’ properties. As Theo Paphitis rightly pointed out on Question Time this week, it’s just ‘theoretical economy’.

Ministers have pointed out that foster carers and families of armed services personnel will be exempt from controversial changes to housing benefit. Furthermore, anyone with severely disabled children is supposedly exempt from the spare room subsidy, yet Guardian’s Patrick Butler  highlighted the fact that government lawyers were still actively seeking to quash an appeal court ruling last May that would ensure exemptions for severely disabled children did not apply.

Katy McCauley, a volunteer at the CAB in Rochdale, believes the policy is “not thought through.” She said: “They’re forgetting that people on housing benefits are on a low income anyway.” She was among the many who came out to protest in Manchester city centre on Saturday in solidarity with the 60 or so towns and cities that had planned demonstrations against this policy.

The government has persuaded many people that all benefits recipients are scroungers and shirkers and so this discussion of the welfare budget always seems polarised. What some people don’t seem to understand is that some of the people who will be affected will have lived in their home for decades.

Take Janet Southgate, a 55-year-old disabled woman from Hyde who came to the demonstration in Manchester. She ‘under-occupies’ a three bedroom house in which she has lived for 27 years, a home where her children grew up. She cannot afford to move out and there are no bungalows available for at least two or three years in her area – to move out would cost her £1000, assuming she has somewhere to go.

“I’m stockpiling food, tins of soup, or I won’t be able to afford to eat,” she said. She will be left with £150 to live off each month, before what is spent on the gas and electricity bills. She adds: “The doctor said I’m suffering from trauma because of all this. I’ve done jobs you don’t want to know about to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’m epileptic, disabled and trapped.”


Andy Bentley, a 50-year-old ex-soldier from Halifax, said that some of his friends would be made homeless come April. A disabled friend of his ‘under-occupies’ his house because he can’t get upstairs, so he sleeps in the living room. What will he do?

When I suggested the possibility of living with his mother, he replied that she did not want him living with her, which begs the questions – what will happen to vulnerable people who cannot rely on family or friends to help them? More people now still live at home with their parents in the UK, but what about those whose parents do not want their children living at home any more?

Yes, housing benefit is a huge bill but that is because property prices and rents have been allowed to rise without control. It is clearly an ill-thought out policy or, as Andy from Halifax put it, “It’s lunacy.”

There are many more in this desperate position and although the government’s explanation suggests that there is an element of choice, that people are being asked nicely to decide whether to downsize or pay extra to have a bit more room, in practice there really aren’t many suitable smaller properties for people to move into, nor can those people afford to have their benefits reduced.

Is the theoretical half-a-billion pounds savings really worth it?


Written by Iram Ramzan

March 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

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By now many people will be aware of the unfortunate controversy surrounding the latest IERA ‘Big Debate’ at which their workhorse and front-man Hamza Tzortzis debated celebrity atheist Professor Lawrence Krauss. The event has become notorious for a ‘gender segregation’ controversy, as Krauss stormed out, refusing to speak at a ‘segregated’ event. He was coaxed back in but the circumstances of his departure and return are unclear: the Atheist contingent claim that the event was segregated and that this was enforced. IERA say that they provided different seating areas, women, men, mixed and couples and that people were free to choose. 

The incident was widely reported in the national press through ‘The Guardian’ newspaper and even the Archbishop of Atheism, Richard Dawkins himself chimed in, tweeting ‘Who the hell do these Muslims think they are?’ and advising people to not be squeamish of being accused of Islamophobia. He further opined that ‘Heads should roll’ (the Saudis would no…

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Written by Iram Ramzan

March 14, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A response to ‘The problem with white converts’

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Famous converts to Islam

Last night I came across an article about white, converts to Islam because it had caused some controversy with a, erm, white, convert to Islam.

She missed the entire point of the article and proceeded to rant away on the racism that converts to Islam suffer from ‘born-Muslims’. Which is fair enough (it happens) but when you use the word ‘Paki’ you really don’t get to complain about racism. She defended her right to say the word because in Latin America it’s ‘perfectly acceptable’, though strangely enough she has since deleted those tweets. Hmm!

Anyhow. The article in question, by Michael Muhammad Knight, explores briefly this notion that somehow the convert to a different religion is “imagined as coming from a place outside culture, becomes privileged as the owner of truth and authenticity.”

I could not agree more.  I have lost count of the times that I have heard Muslims saying things such as “Converts/reverts make the best Muslims”, “InshaAllah I will marry a convert wife they are better than our own women.”

There is a misguided notion that white converts don’t bring culture to religion, as if they, not being born-Muslims, (I don’t believe that anyone is ‘born a Muslim’ but that is a separate topic) read the religious text in a pure, unadulterated form.

Firstly, it is patronising, as it suggests that white people, or anyone who is not brown,  don’t have any culture – everyone subscribes to some form of culture.  Secondly, it places an enormous burden on coverts, who are expected to be living, talking, breathing versions of Islam personified.

Knight hits the nail on the head when he writes: “When people assume that ‘religion’ and ‘culture exist’ as two separate categories culture is then seen as an obstacle to knowing religion.”

Exactly. One cannot divorce culture from religion and vice-versa, the two can shape each other. Islam came out of Arabia, hence the reason why the Qur’an addresses, or tries to, the needs of the people in Arabia at the particular time, e.g. polygamy. This is what has led to some to question, what aspects of Islam are “truly Muslim” and what aspects of Islam are shaped by “Arab culture or tradition”?

It is too complex to go into in such a short amount of time, but I believe that it is misguided for Muslims to say that we should “go back to a pure form of Islam” because it simply does not exist. It is not just the Salafis and Wahhabis who are hell-bent on trying to recreate this seventh-century Mecca as a panacea for numerous ills in today’s Muslim world (thank you Edward Said).

Even the moderate of Muslims allude to such views. The reason, I suspect, why some born-Muslim men are looking for convert wives is because they are disillusioned with their parents’ culture, hence why they seek a convert wife so that they don’t have to put up with that culture anymore (and don’t get me started on those women who forego their own identity and adopt their husband’s), and can solely identify as Muslims only – because to be a ‘proper Muslim’ one apparently has to remove all cultural baggage when approaching the scriptures.

But guess what – it just does not work like that.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

March 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Internal Unemployment: How Fair Is That?

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 24/2/13

I’ll have a mocha and a part-time job to go, please


As I sat in Costa Coffee a few weeks ago, I considered applying for a job in one of the Manchester branches, thinking, I’m in here so often that I may as well work here. And I am desperate for a job, so beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Clearly I was not the only one with that idea, as it emerged a few days ago that more than 1,700 people applied for eight jobs at a new Costa store in Nottingham. Applicants for the posts ranged from graduates to former managers who were clearly overqualified for the positions.

I can identify with this. Like many graduates out there, I have had several jobs which I have been over qualified for, waiting it out for the ‘perfect job’ that may possibly never come my way. While I might come across as completely dejected and “woe is me”, some graduates have a more positive outlook.

Paul Unwin, a 24-year-old graduate, completed his master’s degree in in November 2011. While he now claims to be ‘cautiously optimistic’ now, he admitted feeling the opposite not so long ago. “Foolishly believing that a master’s would land me a job I spent several months reading rejection emails and wondering how to get experience when even entrance level jobs wanted experience,” he said.

“I was really disheartened around the 6 month mark, especially when I came back from the ‘interview’ for what turned out to be a work-placement cold calling. I remember coming straight back to the Jobcentre and losing my patience somewhat.”

Falling levels of unemployment?

For months now we have been hearing from the Government that unemployment is falling. It is their only ‘achievement’ since being in power, so no doubt they will want to bask in this glory. However, figures can be just as misleading as words.

As Rory MacKinnon pointed out in his article:

“Under the Office for National Statistics’ guidelines, ‘employment’ perversely covers not just employees, the self-employed and those in a family business, but also “those on government-supported training and employment programmes” — people who, by any reasonable definition, are not in fact in work.”

This is corroborated by a study by Sheffield Hallam University:

“In the UK there are two official measures of unemployment – the claimant count and the Labour Force Survey measure. In mid-2012 these point to divergent figures – 1.6m and 2.5m respectively. And neither of these figures is comprehensive. The problem is that in the UK there are well developed mechanisms that divert the unemployed between different parts of the benefits system, notably from unemployment benefits to incapacity benefits, or out of the benefits system entirely. Some of these men and women are counted in the official unemployment figures, but others are completely missed. The claimant count data available at this scale is plentiful, but the claimant count is the very narrowest measure of unemployment, missing huge numbers just about everywhere.”

Indeed, as neither Paul nor I claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, we would not be included in these statistics. In fact, Paul is now classed as ‘self-employed’, due to his freelance/voluntary work in collaboration with his local museum, demonstrating a rise in the “secret jobless.”

Unpaid internships

Most employers want to hire employees who have prior experience before taking them on, which is understandable; some professions are more competitive than others. This is where internships and work placements come in.

On the one hand, for some individuals, this has indeed paid off – two young women, aspiring journalists, said that their unpaid work placements had led to employment. Indeed, Paul claims that they can provide experience and confidence.

He said: “I worked for two-months at Learning Works last summer just before I signed off [from the Jobcentre] and it was a good experience; it got me out the house.

“I felt better knowing I was in a sense paying off the money I had been given on job seeker’s by putting something positive back in, and I felt it would help my CV by giving me some experience and showing employers I didn’t consider myself ‘overqualified’ or anything like that.”

But with some internships not paying anything more than travel expenses – in fact, on w4mpjobs, there are no current paid internships – unpaid placements remain a privilege for either those with generous parents who can help with funds, or those living in or close to London.

Libby, of Intern Aware, a campaign for fair, paid internships, insists that if an intern is doing real work for a company then they should be paid for that work. Moreover, she added that the vast majority of internships (particularly in journalism) take place in London, where the high cost of living means that most people couldn’t possibly live there without a wage. She said: “The LSE estimates that it costs around £1000 a month to live in London, and the average internship lasts around 3 months.

“That is £3000 that most young people just do not have. This means that people who do not have parents living a commutable distance from central London, or the means to financially support themselves, are completely cut out of these opportunities and from industries where internships are essential for your CV.”

In fact the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development guidelines explain that the rules for the national minimum wage apply if the arrangements are such that the intern counts as a worker rather than a volunteer. However, the issue of whether an intern classes as a ‘worker’ is made more complicated by the fact that, in some circumstances, they could instead be classed as ‘volunteers’.

Some people would ask, however, how do people get their dream jobs unless they are prepared to show they are willing to do unpaid work?

Libby was adamant: “A willingness to work for free shouldn’t mean the same thing as determination.” She recommends people to write to the head of the company and tell them why they would love to take up the internship but explain that they cannot afford to work for free.

However, in practise this does not always work. I did work experience at two regional papers, while I was unemployed. I asked if they would consider paying travel expenses as I was not working, but this was not possible. If I had not done these placements, then I would have missed out on some good opportunities, so I still went, even if it meant spending the last of my money on getting to those placements.


Cait Reilly

This proved somewhat tricky at the Jobcentre. Some JSA claimants have had issues with doing voluntary work or internships that have clashed with their terms set by the Jobcentre. This is demonstrated by the recent case of Geology graduate Cait Reilly, who successfully argued at the Appeal Court that her unpaid work placement at Poundland which she had been required to do to continue to receive benefits, breached laws on forced labour.

Why she could not have continued her voluntary work at her local museum while claiming her benefits is beyond me, given how she had merely swapped one form of unpaid work experience for another.

In fact, when I told my adviser that I was doing unpaid work experience (don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored him), he said that as I had arranged the placements myself, it was not recommended, considering that all my effort should have gone into looking and applying for paid work and anything that ‘interfered’ with the job hunt was frowned upon, unless it was a placement arranged by the Jobcentre.

Paul agreed with this sentiment, having been offered unpaid placements at a supermarket by the Jobcentre, believing it to be detrimental, as it would have limited his history-based voluntary work.

As for pay, I asked myself why, if this particularly successful supermarket was so desperate for workers, could they not pay me for the 20 hours a week (I think it was 20 hours I may be mistaken) as that would get me off Job Seeker’s as well,” he said.

“I think it is a system that was devised with good intentions but, as with a lot of things, it has been abused horribly.”

For now, he is getting-by, with parents helping him financially while he can “take the gamble”  to get the experience he needs. His voluntary work at the local museum and school,where they hope to get funding to do some heritage projects in the area, is keeping him optimistic.

He said: “If these projects come off it might make somewhere like the British Museum have a second look at me.”

So, now what?

It is extremely hard to stay motivated and positive when all we hear in the news regarding jobs and unemployment is all doom and gloom. Perhaps all these articles that I oh-so-laboriously slog over will pay off. Or I should give up, as one or two individuals have not-so-kindly suggested.

Unemployment and countless rejections can take a psychological toll on a person. Hopefully, there are some employers and businesses out there who are thinking of innovative ways to recognise the talent that many Brits have to offer and take a chance on them.

For now, however, I remain optimistic that maybe Costa is hiring near me!

A clarification of my diary from Pakistan

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My blog of Pakistan/Azad Jammu Kashmir went down really well with a lot of people that I know (and people I don’t know) but some Pakistani journalist on Twitter read it and decided that it provided “no insight and is racist”. Racist! He and a few other Pakistanis took offense to what I had written. Very maturely, he also decided not to direct these comments at me, but make rather nasty and snide comments to other people.

Not that I need to defend my own opinions, or apologise for what I’ve experienced, but I thought I’d write a very short blog in response to what has been said.

Accusation no.1: “No insight” – my diary was not intended to be an insight into Pakistan or AJK or even a deep analysis of a very complex region.  Yes, I decided to publish what I saw and observed but it’s just a diary – end of. I even said as much. However, someone on Twitter who follows me, whose family also happen to be from Bhimber, AJK, said that my diary had reflected exactly what he had seen and shared it on his Facebook.

Accusation no.2: “Racist” – Ah yes, when in doubt, just cry ‘racism’. This is by far the dumbest comment and I won’t really bother responding to that.

Accusation no.3: “She seemed disappointed that it was not Birmingham” – I am not from Birmingham, nor have I ever even been to Birmingham! (As a journalist, you should really have researched me better) It would also be pretty dumb of me to expect a region in south Asia to be like England.

Accusation no.4: “She didn’t even try to enjoy it – You try enjoying yourself when you are stuck in the house for 10 days straight, with nothing to do and no one to talk to. Also, if this journalist had bothered reading the blog properly, he would have read that I HAD indeed enjoyed part of my trip when I was in Lahore. I don’t hate AJK, I just hate the fact that my family never took me anywhere, as there are some amazing places to see in Kashmir.


I asked this journalist to email me with any comments as I was happy to answer any questions, but instead he decided that he would rather make comments behind my back instead of discussing it. Mature.

I used to enjoy going back to AJK because that is where my grandparents were from. Unfortunately, they are no longer with us, so as a result I do not feel connected to that place as I once did.

Also, in 2009, I had a horrendous experience in the village, which I will not go into, but let’s just say it left me with awful memories. Some of the people there who I thought were friends and allies treated my grandfather like dirt, especially when he became ill and hospitalised, so I severely dislike going back to schmooze with those very people. You try spending time with people who have done such horrible things and then tell me that I did not ‘make an effort’.

At the end of the day, I’ll say what the bloody hell I like. I do not owe anybody an apology. These are my own views and my own experiences – they’re very subjective and very personal, so why should I tailor them to appease everyone? If your experience of Pakistan or AJK is wonderful, then good for you – but mine is very different.

To the rest of you, thank you for reading my blogs and sharing your wonderful comments. I really appreciate it.

Written by Iram Ramzan

March 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm

International Women’s Day: a list of some inspirational woman in the world

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International Women’s Day (IWD), marked on 8th March every year, started as a Socialist, political holiday, but is now celebrated all over the world.

There are some who argue that solidarity for women ‘should be for life, not one day’. True. But when you take into account that some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, still do not allow women the right to vote, its is important to have a day where we remember the struggle that women go through, as well as celebrating their achievements in what is still a man’s world.

I would like to concentrate on some inspirational women across the world, both obscure and well-known alike. As you can appreciate, there are far too many to list, but feel free to share your inspirational women in the comments below.


(The late) Marie Colvin

Marie Colvin

Born in Long Island, she was educated at Yale University and started her career as a police reporter for a news agency in New York before moving to Paris and then London. She then joined the Sunday Times in 1986 as a Middle East correspondent.

Marie died on February 22nd 2012 while covering the siege of Homs in Syria, aged just 56.

“We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado? Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price.”

An inspiration for anyone who wants to be a foreign correspondent or war reporter.

Nabila Ramdani – French Journalist

Nabila Ramdani

French-born Nabila is a well-known journalist of Algerian descent who specialises in Anglo-French issues, Islamic affairs, and the Arab World. She writes for several British, French and Arabic newspapers,  as well as regularly appearing on television programmes, including the BBC and Al Jazeera.

Nabila was awarded the title Young Global Leader 2012 by the World Economic Forum and is a winner of the inaugural European Muslim Woman of Influence (EMWI) Award 2010.  She is a nominee for the EU Journalist Award-Together Against Discrimination 2010.

Nabila was due to take part in the Gaza Marathon this year until it was suddenly cancelled by Hamas. She wasted no time in condemning their actions.

This intelligent and articulate lady is not afraid to say what she believes. On top of that, she wears some chic blazers.

Mishal Husain – BBC World News presenter

Mishal Husain

Born in England to parents of Pakistani origin, Mishal gained her first experience of journalism at the age of 18, spending three months as a city reporter in Islamabad at Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper The News.

In 2009, The Times named Husein as one of the most influential Muslim women in Britain.

Intelligent, beautiful and a fantastic presenter, she is an inspiration for south-Asian women everywhere.

Sara Khan – Director and Co-founder of Inspire

Sara Khan

An activist for women’s human rights organisation, Inspire, Sara completed an MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights. Sara is also a qualified hospital pharmacist and has a Masters in Pharmacy.  She has led on a number of innovative projects which have included leadership training, capacity building, women’s rights and the role Muslim women can play in countering extremism.

Is there no end to this lady’s talents?

She has contributed articles for the Guardian and New Statesman. In March 2009, Sara was listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Muslim Women’s Power List.

Raquel E Saraswati – activist

Raquel E Saraswati

A reform-minded Muslim, Raquel helped coordinate Irshad Manji’s Project Ijtihad, an effort aimed at fostering critical thinking in Islam. She has also been involved with gay rights organizations Al-Fatiha and Dignity/USA, and supports the Campaign to Stop Child Executions.

Raquel focuses primarily on issues related to the status of women and girls in the Muslim world and in Islamic communities in the West.  She is a vocal advocate for religious reform, freedom of speech, and equal rights for women and girls. If you follow her on Twitter, you will be well-aware of her feisty, won’t-take-any-crap attitude.

What I especially admire about her is that unlike many Muslim women who wear a hijab, she does not preach about it, nor does she condemn women who choose not to wear one.

Malala Yousafzai – Pakistani student and activist

Malala Yousafzai

I doubt there is anybody who does not know who this 15-year-old Pashtun activist and blogger is. The youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in history, she is known for her education and women’s rights activism in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. In early 2009, at the age of 11/12, Yousafzai wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls.

On October 9th 2012, Malala was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus.Her condition improved enough for her to be sent to a hospital in the United Kingdom for intensive rehabilitation.

Of the Taliban, she said: “Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.” She is a perfect demonstration of what education can do for a female.

Ayesha Mattu/Nura Maznavi –  editors of Love InshAllah

Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi

Ayesha Mattu is a writer and international development consultant who has worked in the field of women’s human rights since 1998 and Nura Maznavi is a civil rights attorney, writer, and Fulbright Scholar. The fantastic duo paired up to edit Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, a collection of heartfelt narratives of American Muslim women.

What inspired me most about them was that they included everyone in this book – black, brown, white, devout women, nominal Muslims, you name it. Love InshAllah gave Muslim women of all backgrounds a platform on which to share their wonderful stories, something which was long overdue. Here’s hoping for a British version!

Naveeda – MUA

Naveeda, MUA

Naveeda, MUA

A professional hair and make up artisté and fully qualified beauty therapist, Naveeda is a well-known name in the beauty industry.  With over twelve years of experience in bridal make up, she is in the top of the list of make up artistés in every Asian magazine Editor’s contact book and regular contributes on leading bridal and fashion magazines such as Asiana.

What inspires me most about this lady is that she started off as a housewife with two young boys and grafted for years until she finally made it to where she is now. On top of that, she raised a fantastic son who is one of my closest friends.

Zee Mitha – business-woman @ZeeZooMeeMoo1

This feisty, loud, fellow Lancashire lass is not afraid to speak her mind. Zee always gets involved in community issues and has visited Muslims girls’ schools to inspire them to become businesswomen. She has contributed to the BBC Asian Network on topics which affect Asians and Muslims.

Whatever she has achieved in life, she has done so through hard-work and determination, often standing up to her own parents and community members to stand up for what she believes in.


My mother

Only kidding!

She has her faults and we may not see eye-to-eye all the time (ok never!) but I admire her for putting up with so much throughout her life. Everything she has now, she has because she went out there and did it for herself, not relying on anyone or anything. Plus she gave birth to ME so that’s got to put her in the list right? :- D

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