Theresa May promises to look into man’s £54,000 NHS cancer bill

Jeremy Corbyn raises case of Albert Thompson, denied treatment because he lacked proof of residency

Theresa May has promised to look into the case of a London man asked to pay £54,000 for cancer treatment despite having lived in the UK for 44 years, after Jeremy Corbyn raised it at prime minister’s questions.

The Labour leader began a series of PMQs questions on the NHS by asking May about Albert Thompson, whose case was uncovered by the Guardian. Thompson is not receiving the radiotherapy treatment he needs for prostate cancer after he was unable to provide evidence of residency.

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Sharp rise in number of EU nationals applying for UK citizenship

The number of German, Italian and French nationals applying for British citizenship has more than trebled in three years as the impact of the Brexit referendum is felt, government data has revealed.

Almost 30,000 EU nationals applied to become British citizens between June 2016 and June 2017, double the previous year.

By volume, Poles topped the list of those seeking British citizenship in the past three years with just under 6,200 applying in the year to June 2017, up 44% on the previous year.

The sharpest rise in applications was among Germans, whose applications jumped from 797 in the year to June 2016 to 2,338 in the year to June 2017.

The number of Italians opting for citizenship rose from 1,109 to 2,950 for the same period, while the number of Spanish almost tripled from about 500 to approximately 1,400.

The biggest jump in percentage terms was among Finnish people, although the volume of applicants was small at 220 – a jump of 255% on the previous year.

Half of the 28,502 applications made in the year after the Brexit vote were made on residency grounds according to the figures provided by the Home Office under the Freedom of Information Act.

A further 6,839 applications were made in the same period on behalf of minors, up 77% on the previous year and more than double the 2014-15 figure.

Figures provided by the Home Office showing the grounds on which individuals applied for citizenship in the year after Brexit compared with previous years

The looming divorce between the EU the UK appears to have consolidated many continental relationships, with a sharp rise in EU nationals applying for citizenship through marriage. Numbers were more than double those recorded in each of the two years before the referendum, standing at 4,342.

Italian, French and German citizenship applications more than trebled in three years.

The uncertainty over Brexit has led to record numbers of EU27 nationals living in Britain trying to secure their status. Recent Home Office figures show that 168,913 permanent residence documents were issued in 2017, the highest ever number and twice the 65,068 issued the previous year.

More recent headline figures from the Home Office show the number of citizenship applications for British citizenship from EU27 nationals has not dimmed: in the full year 2017 there were 38,528 applications, two-and-a-half times the 2016 figure (15,460).

Compared with overall numbers of EU citizens living in the UK, those opting for British citizenship remains very small. Latest ONS data shows there are 907,000 Polish-born citizens in the UK, 299,000 Germans, 220,000 Italians, 164,000 French and 157,000 Spanish.

Applications for citizenship through marriage were highest among Polish, German and Italian nationals

Just over 15,000 of the citizenship applications made in the year after the Brexit referendum were made on the basis of residence in the UK, a 61% rise on the year before the EU referendum.

To become naturalised, EU citizens need to have been resident in the UK for five years if the application is being made on residence grounds. Naturalisation costs £1,282.

Faith, friendship and curses as seven celebrity pilgrims trek to Santiago

There were no road-to-Damascus experiences and very little piety. Instead, when seven people in the public eye walked the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain, there were many arguments and much snoring and swearing.

The group – a priest, an atheist and assorted believers and non-believers – discussed the values shaping their lives while retracing the steps of medieval peregrinos. Along the way, they forged friendships and encountered some of the hundreds of thousands of people who walk the Camino each year, part of a resurgence in pilgrimages.

Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago, which starts on BBC Two on Friday, followed the modern-day pilgrims along part of the 500-mile route from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, almost at the tip of Galicia in Spain. The group was made up of Kate Bottley, Anglican vicar and Gogglebox star; actor Neil Morrissey; M People singer Heather Small; comedian Ed Byrne; performer Debbie McGee; journalist Raphael Rowe, who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit; and TV presenter JJ Chalmers, who survived a bomb blast serving as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan.

As they walked, they questioned their own and each other’s beliefs. “It was eye-opening,” said Rowe, a non-believer who described himself as an “ignorantist”. “It made me think differently about myself, about other people, about religion and faith. I learnt more about religion [on the camino] than I ever have in my life.”

His fear that he might “catch religion” along the way proved unfounded, he said. However, by the end of the journey his “trust in people’s honesty and motivations” had been restored.

Small said the experience strengthened her faith, despite an uncomfortable moment when the group stopped at a monastery and the singer was grilled unsympathetically.

“Along the way you meet people who are genuinely interested in who you are. But then we went into the monastery, and the man there was not interested in me per se – what he saw was my colour, only my colour,” she said. “When you’re being treated as ‘other’, you always know.”

Heather Small

Heather Small: ‘When you are being treated as “other”, you always know.’ Photograph: Toby Lloyd/BBC/CTVC

Small walked out of the monastery, followed by the rest of the group. Their appalled reaction to the incident “showed me we’d really made a bond”, she said.

Bottley had expected the camino to be a spiritual experience but found it a physical challenge. “I hated it with a passion,” she said. The group carried their own gear and slept in basic pilgrims’ hostels, sometimes in dormitory bunk beds. They walked in extreme heat and driving rain.

“It was the hardest thing physically I have ever done, and I’ve given birth twice. The physical act of putting one foot in front of the other, day in, day out,” said Bottley. She had never sworn so much, she added.

The vicar also felt under pressure to defend and explain her faith. “The religious debate was exhausting. I felt I came out to bat a lot. There were a couple of moments when I feared my theological rigour wasn’t enough to carry the debate.”

Pilgrimage was popular in medieval times, when bands of travellers criss-crossed Europe in search of spiritual enlightenment. For many, it was a holiday as well as a religious duty, and a chance to meet new people and hear their stories. The Canterbury Tales, the epic yarn written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, described a group of 30 pilgrims walking from London to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury cathedral, with each telling the others a story along the way.

spain spain

But in 1538 the English pilgrimage movement ended. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell moved against the pre-Reformation church, destroying monasteries, abolishing saints’ days, banning relics and smashing Becket’s shrine. Pilgrimages disappeared for more than 300 years.

Now the camino has spearheaded a pilgrimage revival. In 1984 just over 400 people completed the final section of the camino, a 62-mile stretch which entitles pilgrims to a compostela, a certificate written in Latin and issued by the cathedral of St James in Santiago. By 2016 the number had topped 278,000, including 6,000 from the UK.

New pilgrimage routes have opened across the UK. The Old Way, a medieval 220-mile route from Southampton to Canterbury, is being revived by the British Pilgrimage Trust. The 92-mile Two Saints Way from Chester to Lichfield aims to “set the modern pilgrim on a contemporary quest for ancient wisdom”.

In Scotland, a number of pilgrim trails have been developed in response to renewed interest, including a route in honour of St Magnus in Orkney and the 72-mile Forth to Farne Way, a stunning coastal walk from North Berwick to Lindisfarne.

Many walking these ancient ways are religious; but many more describe themselves as spiritual. A surprising number seek only to escape the pressures of 21st-century life with a simple existence of walking, eating and sleeping.

All members of the group in The Road to Santiago said they were enriched by the experience, in particular the strength of the bond created between them. They have stayed in contact since completing the camino.

“Did anyone have a road-to-Damascus experience? “No,” said Bottley. “But the camino has a way of showing the best of yourself – and the worst of yourself.”

Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago begins on BBC Two on Friday 16 March, 9pm

Tower residents told to pay £500,000 to replace Grenfell-style cladding

Tribunal rules that leaseholders in Croydon block are responsible for making building safe

Leaseholders in an apartment block covered in Grenfell-style cladding have been ordered to pay £500,000 to make their building safe after a tribunal ruled that they, rather than the management company, were obliged to cover the costs.

The ruling, which could be challenged, means leaseholders of the 95-apartment Citiscape complex in Croydon, south London, may face a £2m bill, which some have said would force them into financial ruin.

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I have prostate cancer. But I am happy | George Monbiot

The principles that define a good life protect me from despair, despite this diagnosis and the grisly operation I now face

It came, as these things often do, like a gunshot on a quiet street: shocking and disorienting. In early December, my urine turned brown. The following day I felt feverish and found it hard to pee. I soon realised I had a urinary tract infection. It was unpleasant, but seemed to be no big deal. Now I know that it might have saved my life.

The doctor told me this infection was unusual in a man of my age, and hinted at an underlying condition. So I had a blood test, which revealed that my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were off the scale. An MRI scan and a mortifying biopsy confirmed my suspicions. Prostate cancer: all the smart young men have it this season.

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Sadiq Khan reads out racist tweets in call for tighter tech regulation

London mayor tells SXSW event that online abuse puts BAME people off political careers

Sadiq Khan has revealed he was called a “muzzie terrorist” and faced death threats in a string of racist social media messages that he warned could put black, Asian and minority ethnic people off a career in politics.

The mayor of London used a speech in the US to read out six abusive tweets, saying he “could go on and on”, as he accused the government of a “dereliction of duty” for leaving big technology companies unregulated.

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Microplastic pollution in oceans is far worse than feared, say scientists

The number of tiny plastic pieces polluting the world’s oceans is vastly greater than thought, new research indicates.

The work reveals the highest microplastic pollution yet discovered anywhere in the world in a river near Manchester in the UK. It also shows that the major floods in the area in 2015-16 flushed more than 40bn pieces of microplastic into the sea.

The surge of such a vast amount of microplastic from one small river catchment in a single event led the scientists to conclude that the current estimate for the number of particles in the ocean – five trillion – is a major underestimate.

Microplastics include broken-down plastic waste, synthetic fibres and beads found in personal hygiene products. They are known to harm marine life, which mistake them for food, and can be consumed by humans too via seafood, tap water or other food. The risk to people is still not known, but there are concerns that microplastics can accumulate toxic chemicals and that the tiniest could enter the bloodstream.

“Given their pervasive and persistent nature, microplastics have become a global environmental concern and a potential risk to human populations,” said Rachel Hurley from the University of Manchester and colleagues in their report, published in Nature Geoscience.

Microplastics map

The team analysed sediments in 10 rivers within about 20km of Manchester and all but one of the 40 sites showed microplastic contamination. After the winter floods of 2015-16, they took new samples and found that 70% of the microplastics had been swept away, a total of 43bn particles or 850kg. Of those, about 17bn would float in sea water.

“This is a small to medium sized catchment in the north of England, it is one flood event, it is just one year – there is no way that [5tn global] estimate is right,” said Hurley. The researchers said total microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans “must be far higher”.

The worst hotspot, on the River Tame, had more than 500,000 microplastic particles per square metre in the top 10cm of river bed. This is the worst concentration ever reported and 50% more than the previous record, in beach sediments from South Korea. But Hurley said there may well be worse places yet to me measured: “We don’t have much data for huge rivers in the global south, which may have so much more plastic in.”

“There is so much effort going into the marine side of the microplastic problem but this research shows it is really originating upstream in river catchments,” she said. “We need to control those sources to even begin to clean up the oceans.”

About a third of microplastics found by the team before the flooding were microbeads, tiny spheres used in personal care products and banned in the UK in January. This high proportion surprised the scientists, who said the beads may well also derive from industrial uses, which are not covered by the ban.

Erik van Sebille, at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and and not part of the research team, said the work does support a much higher estimate of global microplastic pollution in the oceans: “I’m not surprised by that conclusion. In 2015, we found that 99% of all plastic in the ocean is not on the surface anymore. The problem is that we don’t know where that 99% of plastic is. Is it on beaches, the seafloor, in marine organisms? Before we can start thinking about cleaning up the plastic, we’ll first need to know how it’s distributed.”

Anne Marie Mahon, at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland and also not part of the research team, said: “I am actually glad to see the estimate going up a bit, just to show there is this huge contribution coming from the freshwater system.” However, she cautioned that not all the microplastics shown in the study to be flushed out by the floods necessarily entered the sea – some may have been washed over the floodplain instead.

“It is very difficult to tell how this plastic may be affecting us,” Hurley said. “But they definitely do enter our bodies. The missing gap is we need to know if we are getting contaminants inside us as a result of plastic particles.”

The smallest particles that could be analysed in the new research were 63 microns, roughly the width of a human hair. But much smaller plastic particles will exist, and Hurley said: “It is the really small stuff we get worried about, as they can get through the membranes in the gut and in the bloodstream – that is the real fear.”