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Parents Spend £135m On Their Child’s First Christmas

Parents Spend £135m On Their Child’s First Christmas

Parents in the UK spend some £135m on gifts to mark their child’s first Christmas, according to a survey by the Post Office.

The study found that an average of £166 is spent per couple and that parents in London spend the most at £328.50, while parents in Belfast spend the least at £63.61.

Young parents are shown to be the biggest spenders, with 18 to 24-year-olds buying £245 worth of gifts.

Gifts for children

Gifts for children

Chloe Renwick and Matt Lee-Cook’s son Sebastien was born at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester in July – a week after Prince George was born at St Mary’s Hospital in London. Chloe and Matt have spent around £50 on Sebastien’s first Christmas.

Mr Lee-Cook said: “(It’s) less than we will probably spend on future Christmases. He has managed to spend a lot of our money already.”

“I don’t think he’s going to feel the benefit of a material Christmas so we’ve got him a few little things, a few toys, nothing significant.”

Ms Renwick said: “It’s also the incidentals; all the things that we’ve bought around it. So he’s had a high chair so he can sit with us at Christmas – that’s not factored into his Christmas budget, so I suppose in total we’ve spent a lot more than that, just not specifically for Christmas.”

When it comes to gifts the most popular present is a teddy bear, or soft toys, for a baby’s first Christmas.

Interactive, or educational baby games came second, followed by baby clothes and then Christmas-themed costumes.

Almost two in five parents (38%) are planning to put money aside in a savings account. The average contribution is around £98.

Prince George is expected to spend his first Christmas at the Queen’s estate in Sandringham. Traditionally the Royal Family exchange small gifts which are often humorous.

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Two People Die As Storm Batters The Country

Two People Die As Storm Batters The Country

A man and a woman have died as rain and winds of up to 87mph sweep the country disrupting the Christmas getaway and leaving more than 6,000 without power.

A man died in Cumbria after falling into the River Rothay at Ambleside triggering a large rescue search involving the police, RAF, Coastguard, and mountain rescue teams. In a separate incident, a woman died after falling into a river at Gwynedd in North Wales.

A motorist died on Sunday at Bolventor, in Cornwall after a three-car accident during a hail storm.

In Horsham, West Sussex, two children were treated for minor injuries after being hit by branches from a falling tree.

Flood warnings were in place across the whole country as it was hit by relentless rain falling on already saturated ground and winds whipping to 70-80mph.

Around 3,000 homes are without power in Cornwall and a further 2,000 in other parts of the South West after high winds brought down power lines, according to Western Power Distribution. According to Southern Electricity, there are 1,100 without power in Berkshire.

The spokesman for the Met Office said a new wind speed high had been recorded at Capel Curig in Conwy, North Wales, with gusts blowing at 87mph.

Not far behind was Berry Head in Torbay, Devon, with gusts of 76mph.

The Dartford QE2 bridge is closed until 4am tomorrow morning, the M48 Severn Bridge is closed to high-sided vehicles and the Sheppey Crossing in Kent has also been closed until Tuesday morning.

An Essex police spokesman said: “The tunnels will remain open to help maintain the flow of traffic, but congestion is expected so drivers are advised to seek alternative routes if possible or avoid the Thurrock and Dartford areas of Essex and Kent.”

A roof blew off a property in Hatherleigh, Devon

A roof blew off a property in Hatherleigh, Devon

In London, Royal Parks officials closed Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Richmond Park, Bushy Park, St James’s Park and Green Park due to the high winds expected overnight on Monday.

The Met Office has issued more than 200 amber “be prepared” warnings across the country. There are 56 “immediate action required” flood warnings in place and one severe warning – meaning lives are at risk – at the Sea Life Centre in the area of Lodmoor, Weymouth.

Sky News’ weather presenter Nazaneen Ghaffar said: “There will be heavy downpours bringing 20-40mm of rainfall quite widely and over 60mm likely across parts of the high ground.”

“As the rain is falling on already saturated ground that could cause both surface water and river flooding in these areas.”

The stormy weather is expected to move to northern areas for Christmas Eve but Christmas Day looks set for calmer weather, however, there are warnings the strong winds and driving rain will return on Friday.

But it is the trains that are expected to bear the brunt of the nasty weather and at least 21 train companies said there were changes to timetables and cancelled services.

An emergency go-slow limit of 50mph is in force on many routes.

Train bosses say “hundreds of engineers” will be on call over the next two days to deal with any blocked tracks or technical problems.

Passengers are being urged to check the latest information before setting out.

Network Rail Managing Director Robin Gisby said: Robin Gisby, managing director of operational services for Network Rail, said the next couple of days would be a challenge.

The A82 in Scotland, where there is an ice alert

The A82 in Scotland, where there is an ice alert

He said: “Our fundamental concern over the next 48 hours is to get everyone where they want to be for Christmas.”

“It won’t be an easy task given the forecast conditions and disruption is likely – but I want to be very clear that our priority is running as many trains as we can safely, rather than worrying about hitting the timetable bang on.”

Many companies have removed limits on day tickets to deter people from travelling at the height of the bad weather.

Motorists were urged to be take special care on the roads and check the flood updates ahead of their journey, as the AA reported it was dealing with 1,100 breakdowns every hour.

The Environment Agency and the AA strongly advised not entering flood water that is moving or more than 10cm deep.

David Jordan, Director of Operations at the Environment Agency, said: “Tragically people die because they’ve taken risks and attempted to drive through flood water just to save a few minutes.”

“Flood water is dangerous. If there is widespread flooding in your area then don’t travel and if a road is closed then turn around and make a detour.”

The Highways Agency said high-sided vehicles and motorcyclists should be especially careful in the high winds and and put out a list of potentially treacherous routes.

The RAC predicted 13 million people would take to the roads from December 24 to 26.

There were cancellations and delays at both Gatwick and Heathrow airports, while the Port of Dover was closed at 9pm becuse of the adverse weather conditions.

Visitor attractions are also playing it safe, with the popular Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park staying shut on Monday as well as Kew Gardens’ Christmas attraction.

Festive revellers will get a brief respite from the unsettled weather on Christmas Day and Boxing Day but the stormy conditions are due to return on Friday.

In Brighton, the council announced that the traditional Christmas Day dip would be cancelled because of the severe weather conditions.

The swim, which was also stopped last year because of dangerous weather conditions, has been running since 1860 and usually attracts scores of participants.

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Blaze At Surrey Theme Park

Blaze At Surrey Theme Park

The Chessington World of Adventures Resort in Surrey has been closed for the day after a fire started at a restaurant near a zoo.

The theme park was not open to the public when emergency crews were alerted at 9am and no people or animals were injured, London Fire Brigade said.

It had been due to open at 10am for a “festive zoo day” according to its website, but a decision was made to shut the site.

Eight fire engines were called to the scene of the blaze at the Creaky Cafe and firefighters later managed to bring it under control.

Fire station manager Craig Carter said the blaze “affected a large part” of the restaurant.

He added: “There were a lot of flames and the area was quite smoky when we arrived.”

Flames at the Theme Park

Flames at the Theme Park

All animals in the zoo were evacuated to a safe place, said the fire service.

The park posted a message on Twitter saying: “Due to unforeseen circumstances Chessington will be closed today.”

“If you had tickets booked for today, they will be valid for another day in the future.”

A company statement said: “This morning, prior to the park opening, a fire broke out in Chessington World of Adventures.”

“Well-practised emergency procedures were immediately put into operation and the emergency services were called and several fire engines were on site within minutes.”

“The theme park and zoo were closed at the time of this incident and, therefore, no guests were involved. All staff areas were immediately evacuated and all staff and animals are safe and well.”

An investigation will be carried out to discover the cause of the fire.

Surrey Police had said people should avoid the area around the park as the A243 was closed – but it was later fully re-opened to traffic.

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Christmas Shoppers To Spend £12bn In Four Days

Christmas Shoppers To Spend £12bn In Four Days

Shoppers are expected to spend £12bn in just four days as they make the most of slashed prices and promotions, according to retail forecasters.

The deals are being offered as a fierce battle for sales rages both on the high street and online.

Alan Dadswell relies on Christmas to keep his shop Toys ‘N’ Tuck in Southend-on-Sea going and he says discounts are crucial.

He said: “To get people to spend the money they have got to feel they are getting a bargain and we have got to give them a bargain. We have to hunt with our suppliers to do good deals to get people in to the store.”

A sluggish autumn has put added pressure on retailers.

But with 74% of shops offering deals, 13 million people are expected to shop on the high street on the last Saturday before Christmas.

It will help that many people finished work for Christmas on Friday.

But Diane Wehrle, from the shop footfall monitors Springboard, says shoppers are getting increasingly canny.

She said: “Tactics definitely come into it. Shoppers are becoming much more savvy than they used to be. They understand that retailers are slashing prices. They understand they are doing one-off specials and they wait for them.”

“So they perhaps go window shopping before the Christmas trading period starts, look out for what they want to buy and then buy them when they are on offer.”

Discounts are crucial

Discounts are crucial

Lizzy Clarke, armed with bags of gifts in Southend, has made the most of the offers.

“They’ve got some great deals … 75% off in some stores and I’ve just bought some jumpers that cost me £30 last week and this week have cost me £7,” she said.

But Rob Antoniazz, who is unconvinced, said: “The decent items in good shops are never up for sale because the demand is there to buy them.”

Half of the money being spent in the four days to the end of Monday will be on food, with £900m going towards online groceries.

Tesco has sold twice as many turkeys over the internet than last year. At its distribution centre in Erith, Kent, staff are working around the clock preparing orders.

Simon Belsham, the managing director of Online Grocery for the chain, said: “This is a really busy time of year for us. It really reflects that customers are looking for more and more convenient ways to shop for their Christmas presents and Christmas food.”

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Clutha Tragedy – Comedy Gig To Help Raise Cash

Clutha Tragedy – Comedy Gig To Help Raise Cash

Glasgow’s comedians are lining up to raise a laugh for victims of the Clutha Pub tragedy.

They also hope tonight’s comedy gig will raise several thousand pounds for the Clutha Appeal Fund, which has already amassed more than £220,000.

Friends and relatives of the 10 people who died when the Police Scotland helicopter crashed into the Glasgow pub have been invited to the show at the city’s O2abc Academy.

They will be joined in the audience by emergency service workers who helped at the scene of the tragedy.

Comedian Janey Godley said: “The love and affection of Glaswegians will carry every laugh from that stage right up into the rafters. That’s who we are, as a people; you might knock us down but we’ll get up and – do you know what? – we’ll get up laughing.”

The comedy show is one a number of initiatives aimed at raising cash for bereaved families suffering financial hardship as a result of the crash on November 29.

Those who died included the three occupants of the helicopter along with seven customers in the pub. Five people remain in hospital, being treated for a range of serious injuries.

Jai McDowall

Jai McDowall

Four police officers who attended the scene of the accident have recorded a song called Won’t Forget, which features Britain’s Got Talent winner Jai McDowall on vocals.

PC Paul Keenan, who wrote the song, said: “It obviously involved our friends and colleagues, so we felt personally touched by it. It was a tragic loss of life, so we came up with the idea of recording a charity single.”

PC Jamie Easton said: “The police is such a close-knit family and it was such a terrible disaster, everybody felt it. Being at the scene myself, it was terrible both for the emergency services and the public. You could see the effect it had on everybody, so I’m grateful to be able to play on the track.”

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London Bus Crash – 32 Passengers Injured

London Bus Crash – 32 Passengers Injured

A bus has crashed into a tree in south London, injuring 32 passengers, seven of them seriously, say police.

The accident happened around 10.50am on Kennington Road near the Imperial War Museum, while the number 59 bus was en route to King’s Cross.

Emergency services said several passengers had to be freed from the wreckage.

A 19-year-old woman and a man were the last to be rescued and are among those most badly hurt.

Clive Robinson, from London Fire Brigade, said workers had to cut through the bodywork of the bus to free several passengers. Ladders were used to reach those on the top deck.

The front of the bus

The front of the bus

“The actual floor of the bus was starting to collapse and we had to shore that up,” he said.

Earlier, police reported that two people were in critical condition.

Among the injured were two police officers who had been travelling on the bus. They were taken to hospital – one with a suspected broken arm.

Kevin Brown, of the London Ambulance Service, said the injuries ranged from bumps and bruises to serious limb and head injuries.

Aerial footage from the scene showed the front of the bus, operated by Arriva, collapsed around the trunk of a tree.

Aerial footage of the crash

Aerial footage of the crash

Transport for London said there will be a thorough investigation.

Mike Weston, TfL’s director for buses, said: “Our first concern is, of course, for the driver, passengers and others involved in this incident.”

“There will be a thorough investigation into this incident as a matter of urgency.”

Police say they still do not know what caused the crash and will be viewing CCTV footage from inside the bus.

Chief Superintendent Glyn Jones said: “At this stage we don’t know what’s caused the collision – that is subject to an ongoing investigation.”

Kennington Road was closed in both directions with routes 3, 59, 159 and 360 on diversion.


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Disabled People Win Living Fund Case Against Government

Disabled People Win Living Fund Case Against Government

Five disabled people have succeeded in a legal challenge to the government’s decision to abolish the Independent Living Fund.

The £320m ILF currently provides support enabling nearly 19,000 severely disabled people in the UK to live independent lives in the community.

The High Court ruled in April that the closure decision was lawful, but this was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The government said it was considering whether to contest the judgement.

During the Court of Appeal hearing, the five argued the High Court had misinterpreted the law and there had been a lack of proper consultation by ministers over the changes.

They said that, without ILF funding and support, they would be forced into residential care or lose their ability to participate in work and everyday activities on the same basis as able-bodied people.

The scheme’s average payout is £300 a week, and the government has said councils, which administer most social care, will take over funding.

The ruling is important for all disabled people

The ruling is important for all disabled people

Ministers took the decision to close the fund on 18 December last year.

Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Elias, Lord Justice Kitchin and Lord Justice McCombe allowed the challenge to the High Court’s earlier ruling, quashing the original decision in favour of the government.

Lord Justice McCombe said the evidence upon which the decision had been based had not given “an adequate flavour of the responses received indicating that independent living might well be put seriously in peril for a large number of people”.

The disabled applicants feared that the decision to close the fund and devolve the money to local authorities would lead to a reduction, or even loss, of that money, which had previously been ring-fenced.

Welcoming the “powerful” ruling, law firms Deighton Pierce-Glynn and Scott-Moncrieff & Associates, which represented the claimants, said their clients had “feared that the loss of their ILF support would threaten their right to live with dignity, and that they could be forced into residential care or lose their ability to work and participate in everyday activities on an equal footing with other people”.

The Court of Appeal decision was described as being “of major importance not just for the claimants, but for all disabled people”.

Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning said: “We are very pleased the Court of Appeal upheld how we undertook our consultation on the future of the fund, and they accepted that it had been carried out properly and fairly.”

“We are disappointed with certain aspects of today’s decision, and we will be examining the judgement very carefully and considering the implications before deciding on the most appropriate way forward, which includes seeking leave to appeal.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman added that the Department for Work and Pensions was “now considering that judgement”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was permitted by the court to intervene in the case and made submissions on the proper application of the Equality Act and UN Convention.

The ILF was established in 1988, but the government decided in 2010 that it had become “no longer appropriate or sustainable” to keep running the scheme outside the mainstream social care system. The fund closed to new applicants soon afterwards.

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Apollo Theatre Collapse

Apollo Theatre Collapse

Nearly 80 people were injured, seven seriously, when part of a theatre ceiling collapsed during a packed West End show in London.

Eyewitnesses described “chaos and panic” as chunks of plaster and masonry crashed on to people seated in the stalls 40 minutes into a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

They said there was a loud creaking before the cave-in, which left the Apollo Theatre engulfed in thick dust and debris. One witness reported hearing an actor yell “watch out” to the audience.

Structural engineers and a district surveyor from Westminster City Council are due to carry out a structural assessment of the building this morning.

An investigation is carried out

An investigation is carried out

Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, described the collapse as a “shocking and upsetting incident”, and said its thoughts were “with the audience and staff”.

Police commandeered three London buses to take the injured to hospital, many of whom were described as “walking wounded”. A makeshift triage centre was set up at the nearby Gielgud Theatre.

London Ambulance Service said it treated 76 patients, of whom 58 were taken to four hospitals. Of those, 51 had suffered minor injuries and seven more serious injuries.

Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett, of the Metropolitan Police, said there was “no suggestion at this stage that (the collapse) was as a result of a criminal act”.

There were around 720 people watching the show when disaster struck.

Martin Bostock, who was in the lower stalls with his family, received a head injury after he was hit by falling debris.

He said: “It was just terrifying and awful. I think the front part of the balcony fell down. At first we thought it was part of the show. Then I got hit on the head.”

“It was complete chaos in the theatre. We got out with cuts and bruises. I think most people did.”

Emergency services arrived quickly at the scene

Emergency services arrived quickly at the scene

School worker Hannah George, 29, said: “I heard someone scream and you heard a shriek – then a chunk of the ceiling collapsed.”

“It actually missed the balcony and must have hit people down below in the stalls – you couldn’t see anything down there.”

“Very quickly ushers held the doors open. It wasn’t every man for himself, it was very ordered. There were people in front going, ‘You OK?’ and trying to get people out.”

“There were people coming out who were more seriously injured. There were loads of people coming out shaking, and a fellow next to me had quite a badly bleeding arm and a ripped shirt.”

The collapse reportedly took place as a reference was made to waves crashing on Brighton rocks, leading some in the audience to believe the noise was part of the show.

Mark Haddon, author of the book which the play is based on, tweeted: “I hope that those who were seriously injured are ok. I’m sorry, too, that so many people went through such a terrifying experience. I’m hugely relieved that no-one has died.”

Mark Tait, an actor in the production, tweeted: “Thoughts are with all the audience. Horrific and unbelievable.”

The theatre – a Grade II-listed building – was completed in 1901 and seats 755 people.
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Half A Million Cut Out Of Social Care Services

Half A Million Cut Out Of Social Care Services

Nearly half a million older and disabled people who would have received social care five years ago have been cut completely out of the system.

Nine out of 10 councils have withdrawn funded care from people with an “inability to carry out several personal care or domestic routines”, according to a new study by the London School of Economics.

Academics say it would cost £2.8bn a year to reinstate the care to this group who are judged to have “moderate” needs.

Even to maintain the current situation – in which the vast majority of councils only meet “substantial” and “critical” needs – would cost £1.6bn because of the pressure of an ageing population, they add.

The findings come as MPs prepare to debate the Care Bill in the House of Commons.

The Care and Support Alliance, a group of 75 organisations and charities including Scope, Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, say the findings reveal the “true scale of the social care crisis”.

Richard Hawkes, chair of the coalition, said: “Chronic under-funding has left nearly half a million older and disabled people, who need support to do the basics, like getting up or out of the house, cut out of the care system.”

He said the Care Bill had some “strong proposals” that could improve a social care system “on its knees”.

“But it’s becoming clear that a huge number of older and disabled people will not see any of the benefits of the new system,” he added.

Elderly, Disabled lose social care

Elderly, Disabled lose social care

Meanwhile, figures obtained under Freedom of Information by Labour show that those who pay for care have seen their charges rise by £50 a month.

The cost of meals-on-wheels have risen by a fifth while community transport prices have almost doubled.

Norman Lamb, the Care Minister, said legislation would help by forcing councils to step into people’s lives earlier.

He said: “What this bill does is very much focus on preventing ill health and preventing a deterioration of condition. And there will be a substantial shift of resources in that direction.”

He said the Government would put in place a national minimum threshold to end the “postcode lottery” in care.

But campaigners are warning that it will be set at a high level – still cutting out anyone with moderate needs.

In West Sussex, a campaign group called Don’t Cut Us Out, warned that the cut-backs were having a serious impact.

It highlighted the case of Julie-Ann Baker who was left disabled after her mother suffered German measles during pregnancy.

She wears a hearing aid in both ears and three years ago her deteriorating sight disappeared completely after she walked into a door.

She received four hours of visits each week from care workers who would bin out of date food, clean up after her guide dog in the garden, vacuum the carpet, change her bed sheets, and take her shopping.

Then suddenly they withdrew the visits – after changing the eligibility criteria.

Ms Baker said: “I just don’t understand why they’ve done it. Sometimes I sit here and cry. One minute they give you and the next they take away. It can be very lonely.”

She said she wished she could blindfold council staff so they could understand how difficult it was. She had mouldy bread in her kitchen and out of date eggs. And when she places a ready meal in the microwave she has no idea what is in it.

Margaret Guest from the Don’t Cut Us Out campaign helps Ms Baker at times. She says she sees similar cases regularly.

The campaigner used to be a manager in social care at the local council and says workers are also horrified by the cuts.

At one meeting a councillor said people had to “harden their hearts” and not become emotional.

A spokesman for West Sussex Council said: “We don’t comment on individual cases, however we are confident in our assessment of Mrs Baker and others like her and have set up prevention and early intervention services for those no longer eligible for social care support as well as working more closely with our partners in the NHS.”

“We have had to make changes to adult social care support because of reductions in local authority budgets brought about by the Government’s determination to reduce the national deficit.”
Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow care minister, said: “We need to spend money in the right place, helping people to live independently in their own homes.”
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Christmas weather in Britain to be wet and windy

Christmas weather in Britain to be wet and windy

Showers and blustery gales are on the cards for most of the country as Britons sit down to their Christmas dinner next week.

A European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model shows very low pressure over the UK on December 25.

Forecasters remain cautious but admit the trends suggest a stormy festive holiday.

Sky News weather producer Joanna Robinson said: “Christmas Day is still a long way off meteorologically speaking, but computer models are hinting that the unsettled theme will continue.”

“Some computer models show a deep area of low pressure moving in from the Atlantic on Christmas Day, bringing very wet and windy conditions.”

“There’s still time for that to change though, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the forecast this week.”

“The unsettled conditions will mean that temperatures will remain around or above average, therefore snow is looking very unlikely at this point.”

MeteoGroup's tweeted map shows low pressure and fairly mild temperatures

MeteoGroup’s map shows low pressure and fairly mild temperatures

Forecasters MeteoGroup tweeted maps indicating low pressure and fairly mild temperatures for the time of year, while the ECMWF map was put out by MetDesk.

Michael Dukes, MetDesk Director of Forecasting said: “It looks very much like it won’t be a white Christmas for most of us, with the possible exception of northern hills and mountains.”

“It’s still a little too far off for much in the way of detail, but current indications are that the Christmas period will very unsettled and often wet/stormy with the risk of high winds as our weather continues to sweep in from the Atlantic.”

“Temperatures will be mostly above average for the time of year, but it may be cold enough at times for some wet snow over northern hills and mountains.”

ECMWF's model for December 25

ECMWF’s model for December 25

“We are watching that risk of high winds with interest, but we won’t be sure if it’s actually going to happen or how bad it will be until five or six days out.”

Heavy rain in the days before Christmas last year caused severe flooding in some areas.

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