Archives For December 2014

Edge Fund

(click CC to watch film with subtitles).

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Every year over sixty-four billion pounds is given to registered charities in the UK. The charity sector has become big business, and incredibly there are now over 1,000 charities with an annual income of over £10 million a year. And as competition for money gets tougher, the larger groups continue to take a larger piece of the pie.

Smaller groups struggle to get heard over the big brand charity names, but there’s good reason why they’re worth backing.

The government lures groups to register as charities with tempting benefits such as claiming tax back on donations. But once you’ve become a registered charity you’re restricted by Charity Commission rules, which are being tightened all the time to prevent groups seeking real change. Most larger charities take government and corporate money making them puppets of the very systems that create inequality and…

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@Tbarls

Thomas Barlow

An Ipsos Mori poll recently showed that, yet again, the British are wrong about almost everything.  We think there are three times more immigrants in the UK than there actually are and that 31 times more benefit fraud is committed than actually occurs.

Teen pregnancy is thought to be 25 times higher than it actually is, and everyone believes there is more crime than ever, even though crime rates have been falling for over a decade.

We have no idea about how our taxes are spent, and we seem to believe that it disproportionately goes to marginal groups like the jobless, the disabled and ethnic minorities.

Is this an accident?

Clearly we are factually completely incorrect in relation to the reality of our own country.  We are largely informed about the state of our country through the mass media.

It would be fair to say that our perceptions of the UK accurately reflects the mass media’s coverage of topics like immigration and benefit fraud, even if this is not the reality.

Take for example the Daily Mail, who last week reported numbers of immigrants in the tens of millions, then published a tiny apology stating that what they meant was actually percentages of immigrants.

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This is the kind of thing that is going to give you a skewed perception of reality.

The same with our political process.

Last week The Express reported that UKIP were ahead of Labour in opinion polls.  This is manifestly false, as the other papers reported the real statistics.

Image:Mirror

Image:Mirror

We have pointed out time and again that UKIP have been given 25 times more coverage on the BBC than the Greens, yet 73% of UKIP supporters would vote for Green policies.  This week, despite being ahead of Lib Dems in the Polls with 8%, the Greens were once again absent from BBC reporting!

Image: Media Lens

Image: Media Lens

It is simply because UKIP have presented as the only voice of dissent when respect for Parliament is at all time low.

UKIP fact

It is also worth noting that the species threatening catastrophe that is man made climate change has been presented as mere academic debate between two reasonably evenly matched sides.  In fact, it is an independently verified human caused phenomenon, only opposed by fossil fuel industry paid scientists, and PR (propoganda) shills.  Even BP’s scientists and CEO’s agree climate change is man caused and is dangerous.

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Whilst we are presenting only the most egregious examples, this pattern can be seen widely throughout the mass media.

Over representation and exaggeration of certain subjects, (usually highly emotive ones, around marginal and defenceless groups) and complete avoidance of groups that actually challenge the  the governing elite is standard practice for the mass media.

This is not only skewing our perceptions of reality, but it is also changing social attitudes.

“Data released by the Guardian in May 2014 reveals there is more self-reported racial prejudice in Britain than there was a decade ago.”

A recent report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation pointed out that the public expects levels of poverty to get worse, while at the same time “support for welfare spending… is at an historical low”.

A change in social attitudes like this changes our interactions with each other.  We are more likely to find open abuse and oppression of marginal groups – such as the disabled or ethnic minorities – acceptable.

We even find this oppression desirable from our political leaders, as we clammer more for harsher punishments to be levelled at those least able to defend themselves.

These groups are not responsible for the problems we face as a society, but we are misdirected, and our anger becomes misplaced.  Then we feel aggrieved when anyone opposes that misplaced aggression.

“It’s political correctness gone mad” “How dare they tell us how many black people should be on T.V.”  “It’s not racist to be CONCERNED about immigration” “Cultural Marxists are fascists” (a favoured online argument of neo nazis and other racist groups like the EDL).

There is no hope for a progressive, rational and positive set of solutions to take hold in contemporary society unless we first take hold of the mass media, and make it act in the public interest, rather than the private interests of the establishment.

1) Chancellor holds back £30bn surplus in National Insurance pot, as families are driven to poverty and food banks

Image: businessforscotland.co.uk

Image: businessforscotland.co.uk

It has been revealed that Chancellor George Osborne sat on a £30bn surplus in National Insurance last year. The House of Lords Library shows that £106bn was spent from National Insurance contributions last year, with £85bn spent  on the benefits system and £21bn on the NHS.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott explained his findings:

“I discovered something that stunned me – the Government last year held back nearly £30 billion”, he said.

“National ­Insurance money can only be used for the NHS or benefits. So since he can’t spend it on anything else and chooses not to fund ­hospitals, the Chancellor lets it sit there.”

Can there be a clearer display that the economic policies of this government are ideological?

Bear this act in mind when the Chancellor claims we need to cut welfare by £25bn, that we don’t have enough to fuel the NHS, but do have room for another tax cut for millionaires.

Read more about this story here.

2) Autumn Statement: Misery and lies

The Chancellor George Osborne announced his Autumn Statement on Wednesday. Again, he manipulated statistics and attempted to appease the public with some extra funding for the NHS (expect more of this appeasement in the run up to the elections) however, these statements are insincere.

One big trope used by Conservatives is feigning that we all of a sudden have a ‘strong economy’ – ‘the fastest growing in the G7’ is a phrase that gets bandied about. What Conservative representatives fail to tell you is that fast growth following harsh stagnation for long periods is not difficult to achieve, but more importantly we are also the only country in the G7 to have wider inequality than we had at the turn of the century.

This means that for most of us, things are no better or are worse, but for a small handful, the top echelons of society, bank balances are still growing.

The richest 1000 people have increased their wealth by 50% since 2008 – enough to wipe out the deficit. Bank managers have paid themselves bonuses worth £81bn since 2008. Again, enough to wipe out the deficit. Yet, George Osborne fights to stop limits to these bonuses and gives us Autumn statements that tell us we must cut further from welfare and the poorest, knowingly plunging people, families, children into insecurity, poverty, hardship and illness.

Osborne also claimed that because we have such a ‘strong economy’ he can afford to give the NHS an extra £2bn. This isn’t true. Firstly, there is no strong economy. There is no strong economy. The Conservatives have borrowed more in their four years than 13 years of the previous government. Borrowing has had to increase due to weak tax receipts because lots of rich people don’t pay their tax, and the growth of low pay employment has meant that those in work are not earning enough to pay tax. The deficit would be gone by the next election said Conservatives in 2010, yet every target has been missed.

And on the protection of the NHS, a senior Tory was recorded saying that Cameron would have to renege on promises to ringfence NHS spending if he is to win the next election and cut the deficit. Further, plans to overhaul A&E services have been put on hold due to risk of backlash described as potential ‘political suicide’ this close to the election. This means that they would do it despite it being clearly against public interest and opinion. And they will do it if given the chance of another term. And let’s not forget all those lucrative connections for Conservative Ministers who want to profit from our NHS, like Steve Dorrell MP who was also acting as adviser for KPMG while they eyed up a £1bn NHS contract.

The Conservatives do not care for our NHS, our welfare or the lives of those not in the top 1%. Apparently, they ‘have no need to attract dog-end voters in the outlying regions’ and in these sorts of statements we see not just the understanding of who this party is for, but also their indifference to the treatment and lives of those they aren’t.

In the run up to the election, we must also be aware of attempts by government to shut down any challenges and debates, as we saw when the Chancellor blasted the BBC when a reporter described the budget as ‘utterly terrifying’ and condemned the deepest cuts since the 1930s. The Chancellor claimed it was ‘nonsense’ and called the BBC ‘hyperbolic’. Though with the Institute for Fiscal Studies also claiming that government spending cuts would have to happen on ‘a colossal scale’ (with £35bn having already taken place, and £55bn yet to come) it seems difficult for the Chancellor to keep his facade even in Mainstream press.

Though that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty more hidden within these statements. While the Chancellor withholds money from benefit claimants and our NHS, PR for corporate companies is happily funded:

https://www.facebook.com/GuyMcV/photos/a.146354958854507.33377.133561296800540/399461633543837/?type=1&fref=nf

Read more about this story here. (Though be aware – these points about the Autumn Statement from the BBC do not challenge the things that Osbourne said, such as his comments G7 as we have above. This is merely a list of the points from the statement).

3) Lack of anti-tax avoidance laws contributing to ‘yawning’ tax gap

Image: blogs.telegraph.co.uk

Image: blogs.telegraph.co.uk

And as we are told that there ‘is not enough to go around’ and we must ‘tighten our belts’ and the Chancellor creates budgets to eat away at the morsels of life for those at the bottom of the economic scale, a study from Tax Research LLP on behalf of the PCS Union, shows that the tax gap – the gap between what should be paid in UK tax if the system worked as intended and what was actually paid – is over £119bn.

“The figures clash significantly with those produced by HMRC, the government’s tax collecting body. The PCS-commissioned research estimates that over 2013 and 14 the UK lost £73.4bn to tax evasion (“tax lost when a person or company deliberately and unlawfully fails to declare income that they know is taxable or claims expenses that are not allowed”) over the course of the studied period, dwarfing the official government estimate of £22.3bn.

“The other areas that contribute to the tax gap are tax avoidance – defined as “tax that is lost when a person claims to arrange their affairs to minimise tax within the law in the UK or in other countries”. The PCS estimates tax avoidance costs the UK economy £19.1bn over the course of the year. Tax debt – tax which is not paid by a person or company who knows that they owe it, but who don’t pay or delay payment – cost the UK £18.2bn over 2013-14.

“While the total tax gap has narrowed slightly from the £120bn Tax Research estimated in 2010, tax evasion has been rising quite sharply over recent years and is predicted to do so.

“Tax Research estimates that the £73.4bn estimate will grow beyond £100bn in 2018-19 should the UK government not take action.

“In a pamphlet written to accompany the report, the research’s author Richard Murphy recommended that the UK government introduce wholesale reform to its tax law to incorporate avoidance strategies, and “the introduction of country-by-country reporting for multinational corporations” combined with “a reversal of the cuts to staff in HMRC and at Companies House”.

Where is the clampdown on this loss of vast amounts of money? Richard Murphy once described tax evasion as ‘the cancer eating our democracy.’

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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By Ruth Holtom

Image: 3.bp.blogspot.com

Image: 3.bp.blogspot.com

A VILLAGE FIGHTS BACK

Andalusia has long been one of Spain’s poorest regions, suffering decades of oppression and neglect under Franco and remaining economically deprived since his death. In the 1980s, fed up with the government’s disregard for the country’s southern rural communities, one Andalusian village decided to fight back. Led by its charismatic mayor Sánchez Gordillo, Marinaleda embarked on ‘la lucha’, the struggle, and after many demonstrations and protests, including a ‘hunger strike against hunger’, the village succeeded in taking power into its own hands. Now, 30 years on, the town is still well and truly in the hands of the people. Gordillo remains the elected mayor, and his vision of a socialist community based on equality and co-operation has meant that the town is governed unlike any other.

MARINALEDA’S CO-OPERATIVE SPIRIT

The village’s decisions do not rest solely on Gordillos’ shoulders; on the contrary, the community holds regular non-hierarchical general assemblies where key decisions are made by all residents. Many marinaleños work at El Humoso, Marinaleda’s own olive producing workers co-operative, which has helped to keep unemployment at 5% whilst surrounding villages can suffer up to 50% unemployment. In Gordillo’s own words, ‘our aim with the co-operative was not to create profit, but to create jobs.’ What’s more, whilst Marinaleda’s governance and work ethic is based on autonomy and self-sustainability, its residents are constantly demonstrating in solidarity for citizens across Andalucia and Spain.

It was with this inspirational story in my head that I arrived in Marinaleda on a sleepy Saturday morning. The first thing that struck me was how clean and well-kept the village was: not a spot of litter; clean white walls; beautiful flowers and trees lining the main street ‘La Avenida de Libertad’. We noticed some interesting street signs – ‘Calle Ernesto Che Guevara’ and ‘Calle Salvador Allende’, and several beautiful political murals. Large white letters above a car park read ‘Otro Mundo es Posible’ – another world is possible – and the village’s flag, green for its rural utopian ideal, red for the workers’ struggle and white for peace, was hanging from several open windows.

Of course, Marinaleda is not perfect. The town has its problems just like any other, not to mention widespread opposition and critics who claim it is under ‘messianic leadership’, where Gordillo ‘intimidates’ anyone who is not on his side. And you can’t help but doubt whether the village’s democratic, co-operative model could really be transferred to larger cities or countries. But I have to say, I find hope in Marinaleda’s inspirational story of how co-operative values can be put into practice for the benefit of an entire community, and especially that this community can stand the test of time and remain true to the values on which it was founded.

To find out more about Marinaleda, read ‘The Village Against the Word’ by Dan Hancox.

First published on 26th September 2014 on The Co-operative College

By Thomas Barlow

@tbarls

Like many people I am only just getting over my horror and disgust at the scenes that we witnessed this Black Friday.  

Instead of people working together to provide for each other, have a nice time and a jolly festive season, our consumerist system has managed to bring us to its’ desired conclusion.

We are not to feel sense or rationale any longer ,we are to fight like dogs for pieces of trash that will never fill the emotional void in our lives – or ease the suffering of our ever diminishing bank accounts.

We punch and kick each other to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, for a festival we’ve long forgotten the meaning of.

***

Funnily enough up until the Victorian era Christmas had little to do with presents, and was deemed too pagan and Catholic to celebrate for centuries after the reformation.

Cynics are not far wrong to suggest that it was a holiday that was built up in the Victorian era to sell pictured cards, though it’s stated purpose was far more charitable thanks to Dickens.

Dickens was the most moral proponent of the spirit of Christmas, and re-introduced the ideas of festivity, gift giving and charity.

So Christmas is a weird hotch potch festival, of northern European paganism, Catholic Christianity and Victorian charity and revivalism.

The antecedents of Black Friday are definitely not charitable.  It was named by police officers in the US to describe the the misery of what they were going to have to face, coupled with the smog and dirt produced by the mass movement of shoppers.

Consumerism and inequality has always been at the heart of the modern Christmas as well, though.

Christmas trees were introduced by the German/British Royal Family and copied by the pilent populaces of the US and Europe and St Nicholas (Father Christmas) had his coat changed from green to red by Coca Cola.

***

For many of us, though, the modern consumerism is too much.

It has loomed large over all of us for a long time already.

Like the Christmas gifts I found in the local garage in August, it is never too early to start worrying about what you are going to spend your money on.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 10.36.56

Black Friday, in this context, is peak abhorrent behaviour,then.

We look on with a mixture of disgust and voyeuristic excitement at the ‘dregs’ of society battling it out for a pointless bargain.

However a shop steward friend of mine pointed out the hypocrisy of the middle class judging the scrums from their armchairs (like myself).

“Question for those who were disgusted by peoples’ actions yesterday: What’s a more blatant example of rank consumerism – cramming into a supermarket in the middle of the night to get 70% of a vacuum OR cramming into a German Xmas Market stall on a Saturday morning to pay £8 for a hotdog and £50 for an ornament your three year old could make at school for a fiver?”

It is true, there are Gladiatorial elements to this, the rich watch on and tut and giggle as poor people fight for them, like Cambodian pauper children paid to beat the hell out of each other.

This does not explain or excuse the rotteness of Black Friday though.

The scenes we have witnessed across the UK show signs of a society that is sinking far past the ability to make any common emotional connection on the basis of anything other than competition and ownership of objects.

***

Unlike the middle class arbiters of tasteful behaviour, I actually don’t have two pennies to rub together.

My Dad, a big Beatles fan, recognising the financial state the whole family is in, sent us the following text:

“No presents for Christmas. All you need is Love!”

Idealistic as the tone may sound, the relief my brother and I feel is tangible.

Up to our eyes in debt, and unaware of what on Earth our parents might need any longer, the thought of just relaxing with my family, eating well, drinking and staying warm actually sounds like a holiday.

For many people it won’t be a holiday.

Most of us have to force ourselves through a scrum of family politics, present ranking and a constant eye on our bank account.  For others it will be a lot worse, old people freezing through the winter, struggling to heat or eat, women in shelters, children in homes, homeless people trying to find a place to live.

The  preceding two months (at least) of this situation is non stop push to buy, buy, buy, a it in someway is going to fill the gap that genuine connection to other human beings might actually fill.

It is an old trope, and we have heard it before, but whether we are buying our German hotdog, or our ASDA widescreens, we don’t seem to be any happier.  And we certainly are no better off.

I leave it to my Salfordian friend to point out the obvious again;

“I don’t like the concept of Black Friday. I think it’s a shame that it’s a thing over here now. However, I wish the middle class left would stop moralising. People are poor. When things are cheap (especially before Xmas), they buy them. Yes it’s a shame that we live in a society where we are defined by what we own, but people with money sitting around tutting and casting scorn from their high horses is hardly going to change that, is it?”

It is easy and enjoyable to feel superior, but let’s actually try and challenge the conditions that create the need and desire for cheap goods in a world of plenty.

We need to organise, not moralise.

I hear that there will be a push to organise for an austerity Christmas next year – buy nothing, support rolling blockades, strike for the living wage, spread love.  Now that’s a Christmas I could enjoy!

In the US workers and Ferguson solidarity protesters have dropped Black Friday sales by 11%.

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I leave you with a man who seems to have a good idea for what we should and shouldn’t be doing.