Archives For austerity

Image: Spectator

Image: Spectator

 

For a few decades following the Green Revolution and its conversion of land and fossil fuels into bumper harvests it felt, for wealthy nations at least, that finally there was more than enough food. Hunger seemed far away from the discourse of progress and plenty. The structural violence underpinning the starvation of unseen millions has never disappeared but in Britain, welfare policy and a rapidly industrialising post-war food system combined to fill most bellies. Throughout the seventies and eighties, food culture centred on the diversifying cuisine resulting from migration and travel, as supermarket shelves groaned with ever-increasing choice and the proportion of income people spent on food shrank considerably. Convenience and brand advertising filled screens. But our relationship with food has grown more complex. Today, the media is permeated with food stories. From snacking on the Tube to horse burgers and the cancer-preventing qualities of kale, food matters constantly cook up anxious minds. Concerns over food range from the serious to the silly, be it the impacts of climate change on potato yields or the breakfast cereal café that might just have killed the Hipster.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but food is something we all need every day to survive. In a few hours’ time, we’ll all be hungry again – food forms a mundane backdrop to every day. It’s also pretty special. The muscles in my typing fingers are moved by energy I got from plants that turned sunlight into stored energy, sandwiched between other foods that were processed and cooked and packaged in a factory many miles and processes away from the places where I bought and ate it. Provisioning is a part of our daily lives – finding time to budget for food, buy it, cook it and clean up after it. Food simmers with social meaning, from the brands we choose to whether we compost the leftovers. We use it to express values, quench desires, show love and make friends.

The meanings we ascribe to food can also express our politics. In our late-capitalist age much ‘food culture’ is based on an imaginary and romanticized yesteryear, a gendered one in which women merrily stirred pots of jam and meat was hauled in by the men after a shotgun-toting walk in the woods. The reality for many has been one of backbreaking labour, often done by women and still a hallmark of daily life for millions: gathering fuel, maintaining fires, pounding grains. The rise of cuisine, as anthropologist Jack Goody argued, accompanied growing class stratification in Europe. The class politics of cooking continue to boil tempers, so that it’s no wonder that Anne Jenkin’s remarks that poor people should eat more porridge met with fury. Not only were her remarks patronizing, but they implied that hunger is a matter of individual competence alone, ignoring the structural barriers to healthy food for all. Shopping, cooking and eating are bound up in the unfair playing field of an industrial corporate food system and unequal access to food. No wonder the media have seized on food stories as markers of societal change.

Reports of ‘food riots’ in 2008 shed light on global price rises [due to food corporation speculation, as this talk explains] but also peoples’ anger at governments’ failure to protect them. In Britain, such rumblings of dissent and a food system in crisis might seem far off when you’re in Tesco stumped by the choice of biscuits…or when you see a supermarket skip brimming with edible food. However, growing evidence about rising hunger levels in the UK and the response of charities have raised important questions about the social justice of our food system, its relationship to labour and economic policy and, critically, the way we view each other.

The figure of the foodbank would come top of my nominations for an emblem of Cameron’s Big Society. As inflation, cuts to services and welfare sanctions place greater pressure on peoples’ budgets for food, energy and shelter (as an All-Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger recently confirmed), the charitable sector has come out in force to pick up the pieces. That force is never enough. Despite the huge increase in emergency food aid and a proliferation of programmes designed to redirect food waste to feed hungry people, food banks frequently run out of food and are only ever a patchy and temporary solution to those who find themselves reliant on handouts. Peoples’ reasons for visiting food banks are diverse and only ever a short-term option, despite the predictable slew of vitriol in newspaper comment threads slung at foodbank users who spend money on fags or dog food. Hell, if I were unemployed and sanctioned for missing a JobCentre Plus appointment and standing in a foodbank queue in the cold, a rollie might feel like my only act of agency or pleasure.

 

people-helped-stats

 

Mainstream media has painted a largely positive picture of food aid providers as virtuous heroes standing between a coldly retreating state and the deathly embrace of hunger, isolation and social breakdown. The religious ethic of food aid charities such as the Trussell Trust has been variously interpreted as a bum-on-seat agenda for a declining institution or as a manifestation of moral values of kindness, non-judgement and giving in an austere age. Critics argue that such food charity depoliticizes hunger and even sustains the situation by creating an impression that hunger is being ‘managed’ and thus needless of systemic change. They point in warning to North America, where foodbanking has become ‘entrenched’ over several years of institutionalization and corporatization. Food giants such as Kelloggs and Unilever presenting themselves as part of the solution can be seen as part of their attempt to increase their market share, either by enabling their surplus stock to be managed by charities rather than expensively landfilled, or by serving branded breakfast cereals to school children. However, it could be argued that food banks also serve as a mirror to hunger: they present themselves as a short-term and partial but necessary solution and, through their connections with statutory services, act as advocates and flag-markers for where the system is failing individuals (in large numbers).

Growing recognition of high levels of food waste has resulted in attempts to divert ‘surplus’ food to food aid providers, portrayed as a ‘win-win’ solution to food waste and food poverty. Can this be seen as foisting ‘second-rate’ food onto people surplus to labour requirements, rather than enabling them to acquire food in ‘culturally appropriate’ ways? Food waste in such vast quantities represents another symptom of an unjust food system (not to mention an environmental nightmare), but simply diverting it to food charity fails to address the causes of both waste and hunger. Choice and quality are necessarily limited (a trip to the foodbank might result in the kind of grim Ready Steady Cook conundrums cleverly satirised in this microplay ).

In a blog post about working at his local food bank, (he’s also writing a book about freeganism called ‘Waving the banana at Capitalism’), Alex Barnard points out the fraught ethics of filling peoples’ food aid boxes with unsuitable food that will probably end up being wasted anyway. At a food distribution session run by an anarchist refugee support organisation in Glasgow, I noticed the fresh produce get snapped up while the array of Whole Foods desserts and speciality foods got left behind. However, it seems that food waste redistribution charities are being pushed by supermarkets to accept ever greater quantities of short-dated ready meals, rather than being supported in the logistically-heavy work of gleaning ‘imperfect’ farm produce or collecting surplus veg from wholesale markets, which is the food most in demand by community organisations who feed people.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

 

The last hundred years saw immense changes in the way food is grown, processed, distributed, sold and eaten. The next hundred years will see more immense changes as climate change continues to bite, technology and energy evolve and populations grow and move. We could simply look out for our own bellies or we could choose to address the massive inequalities in access to food. However, history should have taught us that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. The failed development projects of the late 20th century should remind us that ‘doing good’ may not only obscure diverse interpretations of ‘good’, but can also mask hidden agendas that place the powerless in relationships of dependency and obedience. With this in mind, take another look at the food bank collection in the front of your supermarket and have a think about why hunger is happening, and how we might solve it. Then take a look at the skip out back (mind the barbed wire and security guard). The ‘paradox’ of hunger and waste is alive and well. But it reveals two sides of the same coin – a system of food commodification that denies food freedom for many of us and our neighbours.

By Charlie Spring

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1) Young at increased risk of poverty, says report

Joseph-Rowntree-Foundation

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has released a report revealing that the young are now at an increased risk of poverty, as unemployment and insecure work continues to blight the jobs market.

The report said:

“Youth unemployment has risen continuously since 2004. By 2011 it was two-thirds higher than 2001. At a record high, it’s three times higher than that of other adults.”

Education and qualifications seem to play a major part in whether a young person is able to remain out of poverty. The less qualified a person is, the more likely they are to be unemployed and living in poverty and after the age of 19, the likelihood of getting qualifications drops significantly.

  • “The lower people’s qualifications, the higher their risk of unemployment. This risk has risen over the past decade.”
  • “16- to 19-year-olds not in full-time education are at greater risk of poverty than any age group except the youngest.”

Though, gaps in attainment and increased risk of unemployment can be sourced back to early education. The report said:

“An ‘attainment gap‘ emerges before school. It continues through childhood. By 16 and older, it is considerable.

  • Tests at age 3 show a significant gap between more affluent children and the poorest fifth
  • Lower-achieving but more affluent children overtake the highest low-income achievers by age 7
  • Poorer children are half as likely to go to university as their more affluent peers

Across ethnic groups, white young people do less well than their peers from many minorities. But the performance and treatment of black Caribbean and Traveller children raise serious concerns.

For minority ethnic groups poverty is twice as likely, despite improved qualifications.

Poorer higher education students were already more likely to drop out, defer, switch, repeat or restart courses before tuition fees and cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance applied.

But the aspirations of disadvantaged young people are high.”

Read the report here.

2) Bill to stop ‘revenge evictions’ talked out

Image: Shelter

Image: Shelter

On Monday last week, around 1000 protesters demonstrated outside Parliament in demand for better rights for tenants.

Shelter estimate that some 213,000 people are evicted every year in ‘revenge evictions’ which happen following complaints to landlords over poor housing.

A Bill was put to the House of Commons to end these evictions. It required 100 signatures. Unfortunately, only 60 MPs signed.

Shelter also estimate that 2% of the public are landlords and that private tenancies have seen an increase in poor housing standards. Further, at a time of rocketing rents and stagnant wages, affirming rights for tenants should be a priority for government. Everybody should be able to access safe, secure housing.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this Bill shows priorities are held elsewhere.

Shelter later revealed that 2 MPs ‘filibustered’ the Bill – a tactic of talking out, to delay or ‘talk to death’. They are MPs Philip Davies and Christopher Chope.

Shelter vow to continue the fight until they win.

Read Shelter’s blog ‘We Will Make It Happen’ here.

Read more about this story here.

 

3) Government accused of ‘numbers game’ in use of apprenticeships

Hundreds of thousands of people aged 25 and over are entering apprenticeships which pay as little as £2.73 an hour.

Apprenticeships have been bandied around by parties of all colours as a solution to youth unemployment but  “figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show that more than 350,000 of the UK’s 851,000 apprentices were over 25, with more than 50,000 aged over 50.”

“The number of UK apprentices has risen from 491,300 in 2009 to 851,500 today – an increase of 73%.

“However, the proportion of those over 25 has more than doubled – it was 19% of all apprentices in 2009/10, but now stands at 42%.”

There is now concern that apprenticeships are being used to subsidise full paid jobs and losing focus on the young whilst also massaging employment figures.

Read more about this story here.

4) Theresa May says ‘Time is right’ for more police powers

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Speaking at a counter terrorism event last week, the Home Secretary Theresa May said that the ‘time is right’ to increase police powers to monitor online behaviour in order to combat terrorism and child abuse.

This news snuck out following a general silence since the terror threat was raised to ‘substantial’ earlier this year in the UK.

Considering the ‘loss’ of 114 files on child abuse within government and the Home Secretary’s inability to find someone to lead the child abuse inquiry who had no connection with those involved, we remain unconvinced that these greater powers to probe our online conversations and activity is in our interests or for the protection of potential victims.

May said these powers should be implemented following the General Election.

Read more about this story here.

5) David Cameron attacks migrant workers, but does nothing about exploitative bosses

David Cameron was criticised for attacking migrant workers with further restrictions to benefits, whilst doing nothing to stop exploitative bosses from paying low wages.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Today David Cameron did not act as a prime minister but as a low-grade scrapper, trying to save his political skin by kicking migrant workers.

“He knows he cannot please his big business paymasters who want free access to European workers and the profits that come from their hard work on low wages.

“Instead he inflames a fear of European workers, proposing to cement them as a second-class workforce with no access to the assistance that millions of low paid workers in this country simply need to make ends meet.

“Too many UK employers are addicted to welfare to top up their low waged workforce. It is not migrants that are dragging down pay, but boardrooms that are holding it down.

“Why does he not tackle this by ensuring that collective bargaining can safeguard wages? Look at Germany, which has far greater levels of immigration than the UK but which has laws to protect decent wages.

“What the prime minister did today was to send out a message that the problems in our economy are the fault of workers, wherever they come from. This is a lie. It is not migrant workers who recruit in Poland, or force zero hours work upon people desperate for a job.

“It is not migrant workers who have sold off council homes, cut our Sure Start places, brought ruin to our NHS, or have forced the greatest collapse in living standards in generations.

“It is business behaviour and political decisions that are causing insecurity, not ordinary people trying to make a living.”

Read more about this story here.

6) Government not doing enough to tackle ESA problems

Dr Litchfield’s fifth and final independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been published and the Government has responded to a Work and Pensions Select Committee review into Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
For the last five years, Mind has been feeding into the independent reviews, calling for changes to the WCA process which is used to decide whether someone is able to get the disability benefit ESA. We have also submitted evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee outlining our concerns about wider benefit reforms and the failure of government schemes to support people with mental health problems into work.MIND%20logo[1]

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manger at Mind, said:

“We welcome the ongoing improvements to the WCA through the independent review process, and particularly the focus on the experience of people with mental health problems. However the narrow scope of these reviews means that wider problems with the system for people with mental health problems have still not been tackled.

“The Work and Pensions Committee report provided a comprehensive evaluation of ESA and the WCA and included strong recommendations. Unfortunately the Government’s response represents a missed opportunity, with little sign that they are willing to make reforms of the scale needed.

“Very few people with mental health problems are being supported into work through ESA, and huge numbers of people are receiving benefit sanctions from a system that does not understand their needs and barriers. As a result, many people are finding that the stress and pressure they are put under is making their health worse, and making them feel less able to work. That’s why we’re calling for everyone with mental health problems claiming ESA to receive personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the barriers they may face in getting and staying in work.”

7) Pensioners lead protest for energy rights, after ONS reveal 18,200 excess winter deaths last year

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

Image: Fuel Poverty Action

Pensioners marched and demonstrated outside the offices of lobbyists Energy UK following the release of the winter death toll from the Office for National Statistics.

Find out more about Fuel Poverty Action here.

8) #Cameronmustgo trends for four days

The hashtag #Cameronmustgo trended for 4 days last week, with an outpouring of hundreds of thousands of messages and reasons to sack the Tory PM. Unfortunately, it got no coverage in the media.

From ‘Bring Back News to the BBC’ – Nov 25 –

#CameronMustGo is still trending in the UK on Twitter for the fourth day in a row. No sign at all of it on the #bbctrending Twitter feed. I haven’t heard mention of it on any BBC news outlets (do let us know if you see/hear anything like meaningful coverage). Daily, wall to wall coverage of a single tweet by Elizabeth Thornberry on all mainstream media outlets for many days, but 400,000 + tweets largely ignored by all but single articles in the liberal outlets (HuffPo, Guardian, etc), which have all written multiple articles on Thornberry – 2 to 3 a day for 5 days.

“The mainstream media is talking a completely different language and setting a totally different agenda to the people of the country, and it is happy to talk UKIP, immigrants, scroungers, but not austerity, injustice and poverty. That’s why we need to speak up for ourselves.”

9) George Osbourne’s #AusterityFail

Ahead of budget day on 3rd December, the People’s Assembly have put together a video of messages for George Osbourne.

 

By Tomas Davidson

Ever more regularly I hear phrases like “austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit” bandied about in social parlance, a backdrop for pub conversations, the soundtrack to staff room lunch hours, but rarely do I pay it much attention. In fact, apart from some ill-informed lambasting of our financial system (normally after a few ales) I barely even think about it.

citizens-advice-bureau

I can no longer disregard these terms as abstract notions, small-scale concerns that bubble around quietly in my subconscious but must recognise them for what they are; real threats to the lives and liberties of the most vulnerable in our society. I know this because I know what is going to happen to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

I was a volunteer and employee of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Manchester for 3 years. This is a service that supports 30,000 people every year, day in and day out. Over the course of my time there I was amazed by the commitment and compassion shown by its volunteers and staff and watched CAB help countless people perilously perched on the verge of disaster be pulled back from the brink through hard work and a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge. Benefit appeals, homelessness applications, unfair dismissal claims, debt advice, these are all the normal affairs and narrowly averted disasters that occur inside the CAB offices every single day.

The latest austerity measures, however, are set to toll the death knell for the Citizens Advice Bureau in Manchester. Manchester City Council are proposing cuts to advice services of 50-75%. This, on top of the removal of the majority of legal aid contracts, will be one wound too many for the charity.

If the proposals go ahead, the already stretched service will face total dissolution. The three remaining bureaus in Manchester will be forced to close, the city wide telephone advice service will go dead and the outreach services will stop. Redundancies will abound.

Apart from the tragedy of losing these skilled workers, whose many years of experience in the advice sector will be discarded and who may soon have a very personal need for the kind of advice they were trained to give, who will be the real victims of austerity? As always, it will be the most vulnerable and misrepresented who will pay the price. With the last bastion spent these people must now unravel the complex entanglement of the benefit system alone. They must advise themselves when their houses are to be repossessed or when bailiffs come knocking, lying about their statutory powers. Bills will pile up, appeals will go un-submitted and employees will be subjugated.

So what have I learnt about “austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit”? Extreme spending cuts are for the best right? The only way to drag the country out of a black hole of debt? Call me cynical but in a nation where household disposable income fell for everyone but the richest 5th of households this year, where the rates of tax continues to be slashed for the top 1%, where the proportion of GDP going to the state will be the lowest in western Europe by 2015 (lower than even the US); I have to question the mentality behind removing the provision of advice and dissolving a charity symbolic of our right to question the authority of the administration. A charity which attempts to champion social recourse.

In my opinion CAB are being shut down by jargon. Language is being used to tell a powerful political story that convinces us that spending cuts are a necessary evil, used to excuse social injustice, and to justify deprivation and despair. Shut down people’s means of expressing their dissatisfaction and you effectively silence them.

“Austerity”, “rationalisation” and “deficit” – it’s a gagging order.

Please sign this and make our voices heard.

Hestia, a charity delivering supported housing, registered care, domestic violence refuges, community outreach services and day centres across London, today expressed concerns about changes to the welfare system saying that Government reforms are failing vulnerable people – with less and less practical support being available to people in urgent need.

Hestia’s services support adults and children who are in crisis. For example they support people with mental health needs as well as helping 500 victims of domestic abuse every day through the largest number of domestic abuse refuges in the capital.

In responding to the Government’s current consultation on Local Welfare Provision, the charity spoke to staff and service users across its schemes to get a real view of how the removal of Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans, as well as cuts to discretionary funds are having on the most vulnerable in society.

Hestia found that vulnerable people are not being adequately protected by the current system.

A series of case studies found it common that women moving on from domestic abuse refuges would have no access to beds, fridges, cookers, washing machines or other essential household items as they moved into empty and unfurnished accommodation. This situation could remain unresolved for months due to current constraints and delays. The Government proposals could withdraw discretionary support entirely and make the situation even worse.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive of Hestia, said:

“From our experience of working with vulnerable people across London every day, we can see that the  previous changes to the welfare system are failing those most in need. We are concerned that further changes and reductions to discretionary support will have devastating effects on the most vulnerable.”

“We already see that discretionary assistance is inadequate to meet the needs of vulnerable people at a time of crisis. For example, we have seen women who are pregnant or with severe physical health needs being denied a bed to sleep in or a cooker to feed themselves for months on end.”

“One service manager stated that of the 290 tenants she supports, around a quarter had made enquiries for financial and practical assistance – and none of these had been successful under the current provision. These setbacks undo much of our work to rebuild people’s lives. The human and financial costs of not providing these essential necessities are much greater than the financial commitment required to do so.”

1) Parliament Square is still Occupied – just…

That’s right, no sleeping equipment is allowed, not even a pizza box, outside the ‘father of parliamentary democracy’.  It is not hyperbole to state that “There is less freedom in Westminster than Hong Kong”.  You can read a report by the former deputy chair of the Liberal Democrats here.

http://www.demotix.com/photo/6050598/democracy-protesters-occupy-parliament-square-despite-police-warnings

The protesters have determinedly stuck to their task, and are holding general assemblies and teach ins through out the rest of the week.

Of course you cannot find out about this at any mainstream media outlet who have been ignoring protest and police abuse of power consistently for some time now.  You can follow what is happening on Twitter.

OCCUPY

2) Nearly 100,000 marched on Saturday, to near complete media silence

Despite living in a period which is seeing ever falling real income and more than 5 million in work who cannot earn a living wage, the event was seen as relatively insignificant.

Currently the death of actor Lynda Bellingham tops the news – whereas the march does not make the top ten.

Mirror Tuc

Wages have slumped more than at any other time in 150 years and are continuing to fall.

Len McClusky said of the coalition

“They are seeking to destroy the welfare state – characterising anyone who uses the benefit system in their time of need as a scrounger, and they are devastating local government to a point where care of the elderly is now defined by spreadsheet economics separated into 10-minute blocks, irrespective of the individual’s needs.”

TUC flyer

These and other quotes peppered the Mirror’s coverage, but the march to protest to these truths looks unlikely to affect any of the Parliamentary parties policies, as the peaceful march passed with out comment by anyone but the police.

“Scotland Yard said this evening that the TUC march and rally in London has ended and the participants have dispersed.

They added: “It was very good-natured and well-stewarded. No demonstrators were arrested.”

One wonders if that will continue to be the case if marches keep being ignored by the media and the establishment…

3) We are leading the table of inequality!  At least we are good at something…

It turns out that we are only G7 country where inequality has increased since the turn of the millenium.

The richest 10% now own over 54% of the wealth of the country.  Which is nothing in comparison to the global statistics.

Globally, the report says the richest 1% are getting wealthier and now own more than 48% of the world’s wealth. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,”

It is sometime hard to put these numbers into context, so it is worth a reread.  1% of the human beings on this planet own nearly half of it. 10% of us own nearly nine tenths of the planet.  Everyone else is scrapping it out for the rest.

These trends are continuing to become more pronounced as we head for another global recession.  In a world of plenty, how long can this go on?

4)  An unbelievable Welfare Minister says something totally typical about the disabled.

If this were a fairer world, Lord Freud would never be facing calls for his resignation as welfare minister. He would not have been forced into a public apology after being caught musing insensitively about whether some disabled people “aren’t worth” the full minimum wage, and could make do with £2 an hour. He wouldn’t have gone to ground yesterday. All this would never have happened, because in an ideal world Freud would never have been a minister in the first place.

Freud

The crime is not that he had said that basically disabled people should not be valued equally as human beings, but that he was ever allowed to be in a position where he would be able to act on this prejudice.  It is is even worse that he continues in the role, especially he has absolutely no qualifications for a position where he is responsible for the welfare of millions.

His qualifications, as a former banker and journalist, for radically reforming the welfare state were admittedly something of a mystery even when Labour first hired him as an adviser to Downing Street back in 2006. But at least they had the sense not to unleash him on a nervous public. It was only when Freud jumped ship to the Tories three years later that he was made a shadow minister; and whatever his technical expertise, that’s when his clodhopping public manner became a problem. This is the man who, when asked how as a millionaire he could ever understand what it’s like to be on benefits, responded that “you don’t have to be a corpse to go to the funeral”.

At least he has been honest, there is no need to paint the Tories as unfeeling wretches, who see us nothing more than economic units – and not very valuable ones at that – they do it for us.

The Tories are not content with forcing disabled people into work. They want to pay them a pittance when they get there. I suppose we can thank Freud. The government has been producing enough measures that infers disabled people are slightly less than human. He’s finally said it out loud.

5) 3.5 Million children are living in poverty in this country.  And schools are having to deliver aid to help them, in an obscene dereliction of duty by those responsible for the welfare of us all (see disabled bashing ex banker above).

child poverty

Here are some facts from the child poverty report – we encourage you to read it all.

  • There are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of children, or more than one in four.1
  • There are even more serious concentrations of child poverty at a local level: in 100 local wards, for example, between 50 and 70 per cent of children are growing up in poverty.2
  • Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works.3
  • People are poor for many reasons. But explanations which put poverty down to drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdown, poor parenting, or a culture of worklessness are not supported by the facts.4

The overview is brief and well written, at a time when the media has been consistently blaming poverty on the poor, and the welfare state for our national debt.

The same week we hear inequality is increasing, we also see the disastrous effect that is having on our children.  The criticism is levelled at all three parties in the report – as well as pointing out Labour’s lack of ambition (like we did in our recent podcast)

It will also criticise Labour’s goal of an £8-per-hour national minimum wage by 2020, arguing that it is not as ambitious as it sounds because it implies a slower rate of increase between now and 2020 than there was between 1999 and this year. If that trend continued, the minimum wage would be worth £8.23 an hour in 2020, not £8, it calculates.

6) ALSO

Only 4% of drone strikes actually kill Al Qaeda terrorists.

Blacklisted workers are still fighting to be allowed to work.

Reclaim Our Future

kamsandhu —  October 9, 2014 — 1 Comment
Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

They say nationalism grows when people start to think that their past is better than their future.

It is not hard to see why we romanticise a mythical past in this country right now – and why we have seen a rise in reactionary nationalism.

The robbery of all our wealth by the bankers and politicians has left us divided and angry, blaming immigrants and poor people for joblessness, poverty, declining real wages, longer hours, insecure work and the many other trials that blight our daily lives now.

Our education is being privatised, sold off to religious groups and corporations through free schools. University is an expense that can never be paid back. It is no longer a place for learning, but a place to turn yourself into the ultimate economic unit.

The NHS, Pensions and Welfare as we know it will probably not exist within a decade.

We are the first generation in modern history to be poorer than our parents.

We are all in debt now – mortgages, university, credit cards, payday loans – we are all chasing that chimera of a moment when we finally get caught up.

Even our nation is in this kind of debt, one that can never be repaid, or even really afforded.

And with all of this we are now a people without a future.  It has been sold off – financially packaged and redistributed to us as reminder letters, and personal financial advice, and ‘careful planning’. Austerity is our future.

Of course, this is all a mirage.  Money is no more real than debt.  They are both ideas.  We can say no.  We can refuse to pay.

However those ideas are as real as the bailiffs who come to collect them. So what are we to do?

No one seems to be offering solutions, politicians are barely even lying any longer – they all say we face even worse times ahead.

But another future is possible.

Across the UK and the world people are living the change we want to see. Housing, energy , food, arts, banks and all the other good things are being created in cooperatives and localities all over.

These are owned by the people who use them and they are created for the benefit of all, not just for the profit of a few. They help people provide more of what we need and work less.

There is hope through 3D printing, the internet, and other technology that – if we keep it free and usable for all – we can create another world directly, without any interference from above.

Resistance is occurring globally – from the slums of Rio, to the cities of China, from the streets of the UK, to the squares of Egypt. Too many places and too many people to count and standing up and saying ‘Enough Already!’.

For the first time in human history we can create a truly global change, no longer looking to just solving problems within our own borders – or within the borders of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability and the other divides we see as so fundamental.

These are borders reinforced in the mind, and used by the powerful to keep us divided.  They can be destroyed by us as they were created by them.

We know any truly liberatory change will have to come for all us, or not at all.

If we work together, learn from the mistakes of the past, be prepared to make new mistakes, and create and resist with joy and determination then we can imagine a better world.  

We can believe another world is possible.

We can reclaim our future.

 Thomas Barlow

_____________________

 

Keep up to date with the campaign groups we follow and support on RealFare on Facebook here or Twitter here.


Read the rest of our Reclaim Series (search ‘Reclaim’) to find out more about the different ways we can reclaim our future together – and how people are already doing it.

 

One organiser said after this weekend in Edale that it felt like ‘the end of the beginning’, which may not mean much out of context, but this is a huge step for a left that has been struggling to remake itself for decades. FF14-banner-small

Over the weekend of the 12th -14th September over 150 activists and organisers came together for a residential weekend conference in Edale.  Whilst this alone may not seem newsworthy, the outcomes may be some of the most important for the British left in a decade or more.

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The decline of the British left has been commented on by many for a long time.  The causes are vast and complex, and can be traced back to the defeat of the miners in 1984, and the collapse of the USSR in 1989.

British society has become a little more socially liberal since then, and technologically far more advanced, but it has also become vastly more unequal, less democratic, and less free.  Day to to day living has also become more precarious, stressful and unsure.

Against the array of forces creating these conditions – imperialist states such as our own, multinational corporations, global trade deals and organisations, religious extremists and climate changing industries – the left has been able to do little.

There have been notable exceptions but, when it comes down to it, everyone has been confused about what to do and how to do it.

Our often weak response to the austerity agenda and the misery it has caused has been indicative of a left that, among other losses, failed to stop an invasion that no one wanted, failed to genuinely tackle climate change, failed to save free education, and failed to stop the privatisation of the NHS from within.

The fear of creating – or working with – the all encompassing Parties of the Leninist Socialist/Communist tradition after the collapse of the USSR created a space for new organisations to flourish.  These ‘horizontalist’ ‘networked’ ‘consensus based’ organisations had been around for a while, but came into their own over the past 25 years.

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Back to Fast Forward Festival.

Organised by Plan C (a name that suggests communism, but also the failures of both Plans A and B to the credit crisis), experienced organisers who had worked in both Leninist and Horizontal groups over this period came together to discuss ‘what is to be done?’

This may seem like something that happens a lot, but rarely – in this writer’s time involved with the left at least – has there been a gathering where the organisers and attendees were so honestly committed to answering this question.

There was no rush to organise for the next campaign, or build a coalition, or to recruit to a party.  There was no organisational form that was lauded over any other and no dogmatic solutions proposed.

These are the usual failings of left wing groups.  Either they are obsessed with party building and recruitment in pyramid scheme like factions, or they are rushing from in-vogue crisis to the next in-vogue crisis.

If we all know that there is a fundamental systemic flaw in capitalism which creates huge amounts of misery and destruction unnecessarily, it is hard to work out why this happens.  The type of people who are critical enough to challenge this system, and are compulsive active enough to make a living from doing this may, ultimately, be the flaw that causes these repeated mistakes.

After recent years where the largest party on the radical left (the SWP) has  collapsed, and the flaws of horizontalism (networks that come and go with the seasons) have been shown up in their entirety with no functioning long term organisations able to face the crisis, this was a massively important step.

The shape of the conference is briefly outlined below, but I wont be drawing conclusions here, except how to say how I will be helping us look forward, by (not entirely paradoxically) looking backward.

What I would say is that for those who are interested in answering the questions posed by our flaws, please check in on Plan C.  The group is not interested in recruitment, but is providing a much needed space for us all to draw a breath.

We must all realise that the task of creating social change is massive, and it is long term. So we should take plenty of time for reflection. This is not merely an academic tendency, but a necessity for us to grow and achieve more – and hopefully a new and better progressive movement can be born from it.

Hopefully this can increase the joy and effectiveness with which we undertake the task – because ultimately it is a beautiful and necessary endeavour.

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THE CONFERENCE

The main plenary originally focused on the use of making demands.

‘Why demand?’ may seem an academic question, but what we ask for and who we ask it from (the government, big business, or ourselves) shapes the outcomes of our struggles for change in a fundamental fashion.

After that the discussions focused on Work, on Movements and Organisations, Territory and Power, Migration and Borders, Reaction and Populism and finally Social Reproduction (or the work of living day to day).

With discussions on ‘Work and Anxiety’ and ‘Beyond Europe’ proving very popular as well, the festival finally ended with a ‘Where Next’ discussion.

****

The ‘Where Next’ for me has come in the form of an inspiration to write a series of social histories on the movements of the past 25 years.

In discussing ‘movements and organisations’, one of the many flaws we recognised from organising over the past couple of decades is that we have no idea of our own history, of our own power and our own failings.  As such we are forced to repeat them again and again.

This series will be my little contribution towards rectifying that – hopefully with some films to come out in the new year.

There are stories of hope and failure from across the past 25 years to learn from, and in our upcoming series ‘This Is Just The Beginning’ we will tell those stories and try to evaluate what went right, what went wrong, and what a new generation can learn.

In a capitalist society at least 50% of all new businesses fail in their first year.  Organisations of global scale fail and collapse all the time.  And of course capitalism itself relies solely on the exploitation of people and the planet, which is just one on-going failure.

In the light of this we should not be too hard on ourselves or our attempts to change this system.  We are learning, we are growing, and we are getting better.

This is just the beginning.

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Please check out Plan C
https://www.facebook.com/plancMCR

http://www.weareplanc.org/

Thomas Barlow

1) Britain’s poor now on par with Eastern Bloc

The poorest fifth of UK households are significantly worse off than the poorest fifth in other Western European countries, according to analysis of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data published by the High Pay Centre last week.

High Pay Centre Director Deborah Hargreaves said:

 “These figures suggest we need to be more concerned about inequality and how prosperity is shared, as well as average incomes or aggregate measures like GDP. The fact that the rich are richer in the UK than many other countries hides the fact that the poor are poorer.

“Most people think our living standards in the UK are similar to economies like France and Germany, but being poor in the UK is more like being poor in the former Soviet Bloc than in Western Europe.”

The High Pay Centre analysis also notes that if the UK’s total income of around £1 trillion was divided in the same way as total incomes in Denmark or the Netherlands, 99% of UK households would be better off by around £2,700 per year.

Image: The Huffington Post

Image: The Huffington Post

 

Read more about this story here.

2) Labour announces plans to cut benefits for 18-21 year olds, replacing with means-tested training allowances

Ed Miliband announced Labour’s first plans on cuts to welfare, with a plan that would remove benefits from 100,000 18-21 year olds, replaced instead with a means-tested allowance based on whether the claimant is in training.

The move follows a YouGov poll released last week which found that 78% of the British public felt that the welfare system was unfair and failing to reward those who had contributed to it.

The move is also meant to symbolise Labour’s dedication to welfare reform, apparently tapping in to the need to reward people in a way that is closer to what they pay in. It does however, entirely ignore the fact that opportunities for young people are scarce in a far more insecure and lower-paid environment than the previous generation.

The removal of Jobseeker’s Allowance for those below skills level 3 will affect seven out of 10 young people, and save around £65m.10431489_686788578035740_8042865362329683316_n

Read more about this story here.

3) Royal College of Nurses threaten to unseat MPs who do not support a pay rise for NHS staff

Nursing leaders have pledged that they would work to unseat MPs who do not support a pay rise for NHS staff, at the next election.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has denied frontline health professionals a one percent pay rise across the board, infuriating health unions.

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Some have put forward the idea of strike action, Dr Peter Carter, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing has suggested that rather than risking patient care through strike action, nurses should pursue “alternative forms of industrial action” at the ballot box.

“There are many MPs on all sides of the House of Commons that have small majorities, some just a few hundred, some even as low as 30 or 40” he told RCN members. “There are about 1,000 nurses in each constituency and if we mobilise ourselves I know many of those MPs will be looking over their shoulders and wondering if they’ll be re-elected at the General Election next year.”

Power to them.

4) Don’t let them tell you that our NHS is failing or needs privatisation. It is the best healthcare system in the world.

An international panel of experts declared that the NHS is the best healthcare system in the world, rating it’s care superior to other countries who spend more. The report ranked the USA as the worst in healthcare provision.

“The United Kingdom ranks first overall, scoring highest on quality, access and efficiency,” the fund’s researchers conclude in their 30-page report. Their findings amount to a huge endorsement of the health service, especially as it spends the second-lowest amount on healthcare among the 11 – just £2,008 per head, less than half the £5,017 in the US. Only New Zealand, with £1,876, spent less.”

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Read more about this story here.

5) DWP caught out as over half a million sickness benefit appeals were won, but figures were hidden from the public

From ilegal:

“DWP ministers said only 9% of ESA decisions were wrong.  Our research reveals the DWP have been quoting from figures which state 151,800 appeals have succeeded.  Our evidence shows the true figure to be at least 567,634 – casting serious doubt over 43% of 1,302,200 ‘fit for work’ decisions.”

“These figures completely negate all of the DWP’s claims that it is getting the majority of its decisions right. Government ministers in conjunction with the DWP’s Press office have been telling us that a million claimants have been found fit for work whereas these figures show that in reality this is only a small part of the true story and that huge numbers have gone on to successfully appeal decisions which were wrong.

“These new figures highlight the dubious practice of using the unchallenged assessment results, which only encourage media sensationalisation, with headlines such as those appearing in the Daily Express in July 2011 stating that ‘75% on sickness benefits were faking’. The same article goes on to say that out of ‘…2.6 million on the sick, 1.9 million could work’ before receiving an endorsement from the Prime Minister with an assurance that his government was “producing a much better system where we put people through their paces and say that if you can work, you should work”.

Read more about this story here.

6) 50,000+ march in People’s Assembly demo against austerity, and BBC fails to report on it again

Thousands took to the streets in London on Saturday against austerity, with speakers including Russell Brand, Owen Jones and Christine Blower. Solidarity reigned supreme as the demonstration brought together a coalition of unions, political parties, activist groups and community leaders. The march also celebrated one year of the People’s Assembly.

The march comes ahead of a 1 million strong strike planned on 10th July for public sector workers against pay freezes – sending a clear message to government that damaging austerity will not be tolerated. And the People’s Assembly plan to stage the biggest demonstration ever seen later this year.

As with the Manchester march against the privatisation of the NHS, where 50-70,000 took to the streets, the BBC turned a blind eye to the demonstration, slipping out a small report late in the evening on their website.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

The People’s Assembly will march on Saturday from BBC headquarters at 1pm through London to Parliament Square in a united front against austerity, and this is shaping up to be one of their biggest demos yet. With a list of speakers that include Russell Brand, Owen Jones and Christine Blower, and a free festival, the day will be filled with activities and there will be plenty of communities and people to meet.

Demand the alternative on 21st June.

Find out more here.

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1) Queen’s Speech confirms move to frack under homes without permission. Greenpeace turn PM’s home into drilling site.

The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday confirmed that government would overhaul trespass laws to allow energy companies to frack under homes without permission.

Greenpeace responded by sending a bunch of activists to the Oxfordshire home of David Cameron, in order to turn his home into a drilling site.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Greenpeace also have a petition to sign to protest against these new laws. Sign the petition here.

Talk Fracking are holding their debates around the country this week too, so don’t forget to get down to one near you.

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Read more about this story here. 

2) Tories spark outrage in report to UN claiming welfare reforms would help the nation’s poorest children out of poverty

The government was branded “dishonest” following a report given to the UN that claimed welfare reforms and benefit cuts would help the poorest children out of poverty. Reforms are actually pushing more people into poverty with some reports claiming we will have 5 million below the poverty line by 2020, and food bank usage continues to rise.

The Scottish government tried to get the claim removed from the report, but were blocked from doing so.

Image: backbencher.co.uk

Image: backbencher.co.uk

Children’s Minister, Aileen Campbell commented:

“This report is downright insulting to the thousands of children driven into poverty by the Tories.

“The Scottish Government are straining every sinew to help families hit by welfare cuts but tens of thousands more children are facing poverty in coming years because of the Tories. That is the reality.

“In a country as rich as Scotland, food banks have never been busier. That is a national scandal.

“Instead of telling the truth, the Tories are censoring Scotland’s view and refusing to tell the UN the reality of their cuts. That is simply dishonest.”

Read more about this story here.

3) Mass strike likely for 10 July

Several large unions along with other civil servants are making plans to strike on 10 July against damaging austerity and public sector pay freezes.

It will be the largest co-ordinated action for two years if the strike goes ahead, with over 1 million workers taking part.

Unions involved include Unison, Unite, GMB, PCS and the NUT.

Read more about this story here.

4) Tory donors given £1.5bn in NHS contracts

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has uncovered links between tory party supporters and the companies awarded NHS contracts worth £1.5bn.

NHS logo

NHS logo

Circle Health, the biggest profiters, were given £1.36bn in contracts after several investors donated £1.5m to the Conservatives. Burnham said:

“Nobody gave David Cameron ­permission to sell the NHS to his friends.

“It’s shocking the same Tory donors who ­bankrolled the development of their NHS reorganisation policy are now ­profiting from the sell-off of NHS services.”

Circle’s biggest contract was £1bn to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital. A Tory spokesman responded that the decision to contract out Hinchingbrooke was taken by Andy Burnham.

Still, Circle profits in the time of the coalition government have gone up from £64.6 million in 2010/2011 to £170.4 million in 2011/2012.

Read more about this story here.

5) 25 employers named and shamed after failing to pay minimum wage

The Telegraph

The Telegraph

The government have released a list of 25 employers who were breaking the law by paying below the minimum wage, following laws that came into effect last October.

Employers were investigated by HMRC after staff called a free helpline to report they were being underpaid.

“They include a school in Edinburgh which underpaid an employee by £3,739 and a garage in Bradford that failed to pay a worker £6,426.”

BBC News

Employers found to be underpaying staff can face a penalty of up to £20,000. Legislation is underway to change this to a maximum penalty of £20,000 per employee that is underpaid.

Read more about this story here.

6) ‘Studs’ designed to deter rough sleepers from central London flats condemned by public

Anti-homeless metal studs have been installed outside a block of flats in Southwark to deter rough sleepers. Andrew Horton, 33, took a photo of them and posted it on Twitter as he walked to work on Wednesday starting a Twitter condemnation of the tactic.

The images posted on Twitter by Horton

The images posted on Twitter by Horton

Other photos were posted of the studs used elsewhere. Homelessness charities say the studs have been used for over a decade.

“Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, said: “This is happening in a context where rough sleeping has gone up massively. Over the last three years rough sleeping has risen by 36% nationally and by 75% in London. More than 6,400 people slept rough in London last year.”

“The reason for that increase is the continuing economic downturn, thehousing shortage, and cuts to benefits, particularly housing benefit.”

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass