Thursday, 17 April 2014

DFID refuse £38 billion cheque from peace activists

The Department for International Development (DFID) refused to accept a cheque for £38 billion representing the UK defence budget from peace activists this week.
General Secretary of Pax Christi Pat Gaffney led a group of faith based activists, marking the day of action on global military spending, around Whitehall offering the £38 billion cheques, as part of a plea to get the different departments to use the defence budget for social and environmental needs.
John Hilary of War on Want, tried to hand in a large cheque for £38 billion to DFID, explaining that the money should be used to promote peace and development, rather than military projects. DFID refused to accept it.
There was better fortune at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which took its cheque for £38 billion plus a letter urging that money be devoted to addressing climate impacts and flood defences rather than military expenditure. Pat Gaffney and Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC were thanked.  
Then it was a walk past Downing Street to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where Bruce Kent, a vice president of Pax Christi, handed in another cheque for £38 billion, and deplored world military expenditure of a massive £2.5 trillion. He urged the big development agencies such as CAFOD, Christian Aid, and Save the Children Fund to be more forthright in condemning hefty military expenditure. He expressed surprise that in the current context of global socio-economic crisis, few have voiced indignation regarding the disproportionate levels of military spending.
‘NHS not Trident’ ‘Jobs not Trident’ ‘Homes not Trident’ ‘Climate not Trident’ were among the banners heading down a sunny Whitehall.
 
At the Department of Health, the cheque was again accepted and staff there were challenged to consider that “military spending is bad for health”, and “a militarised world is bad for health”. 
Some 1 in 4 children in the UK grow up in poverty, that 20,000 disabled people will lose support for the basics in life when the Independent Living Fund closes, and that thirteen times more people are relying on foodbanks to survive than did five years ago. Meanwhile, the UK’s military spending is among the highest in the world.
The Ministry of Defence  took in a cancelled cheque for £38 billion from Pat Gaffney and Kate Hudson, Chair of CND, who said she was “proud to be part of this coalition against military spending”. She continued: “While the British public are living through the deepest spending cuts in recent history, the government still sees fit to waste over £100bn on a Cold War weapons system and to spend £38bn on the military this year alone. The Global Day of Action on Military Spending is a vital challenge to the skewed priorities of this government, and governments around the world who choose weapons of war over the welfare of their people.”
The protest concluded with Pat Gaffney underlining that military expenditure threatens human security. She particularly called for Britain to reject plans to renew its Trident nuclear weapons system. Given the numerous crises facing the planet – environmental, economic, health, diplomatic - it is necessary to strengthen and expand the global movement to shift military spending to human needs. She pointed out that similar actions took place in Oxford, Coventry, Leeds, Bristol and other cities and in 35 countries around the world

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Plea for inter-generational solidarity


There is a move afoot to set generation against generation as part of an overall effort to blame others for an economic crisis largely created by the banks and financial sector.

The Coalition Government has set the tone, with its rhetoric of strivers against skivers and those in work versus those on benefits. The debate takes on an even sourer tone, when the rhetoric extends to people with disabilities being regarded as benefit cheats. Then there is the big scapegoat, immigrants, whose cause no party seems prepared to champion.

It against this context that the inter-generational conflict debate needs to be set. The media, in particular, seem keen to foster the idea that because the older generation or baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) had it all, the younger generation are now suffering. So the baby boomers have the houses, received a free education - with grants not loans, caused many of the problems of today like climate change and continue to cost younger generations more by living longer, receiving pensions and universal benefits like winter fuel allowance. They are also major recipients of health and social care.

The way in which the media foster this intergenerational conflict approach was nicely demonstrated earlier in the year when Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his government would be retaining the triple lock approach to pension rises beyond the next general election. The triple lock ensures that pensions will increase by the level of inflation, wage rises or 2.5% whichever is the greater.

The story was reported by contrasting this approach with that of the freeze that has been imposed on benefit rises that go to younger people.

Among the proponents of the view that there is some conflict between old and young is Conservative minister David Willetts, who wrote the book: ”the Pinch; how the baby boomers stole their children’s future” (2010). Willetts argues that if our political, economic and cultural leaders do not begin to discharge their obligations to the future, the young people of today will be taxed more, work longer hours for less money, have lower social mobility and live in a degraded environment in order to pay for their parents' quality of life.

Another adherent is Stephen King, chief economist at HSBC, who predicts a Peasant Revolt type response from the younger generation due to the perceived injustice of their predicament vis a via the baby boomers.

The real rationale behind this approach can be seen from the comments of political commentator and Yougov pollster Peter Kellner, who having accepted the analysis, then argues for extending the retirement age and cutting back on universal benefits like the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over 75s and bus passes.

The justification for these moves to cut benefits for older people always come down to the argument that people are living longer. Men are now living to 78.8 and women to 82.8 years. (ONS – 2009 to 2011)  However, as CWU general secretary Billy Hayes recently pointed out there are vast differences in life expectancy, according to where an individual lives and what job they do.

So a person living in East Dorset lives 5.5 years longer than a Mancunian and 4.3 years longer than a Liverpudlian.

In occupational terms, white collar workers live around 2.5 years more than their blue collar counterparts. This is expected to increase to more than three years by 2028.

Hayes really hit the nail on the head with his analysis, namely that issue is really all about class, not demographics. There are increasing numbers of young and old living in poverty, just as there are young and old among the growing numbers of billionaires.

There is though a caveat to be added, namely why should anyone be surprised if those who are older and have worked longer have more. “Why would those who have not yet spent 40 or 50 years working expect to have higher incomes and wealth than those who have? Should young people, not far into their working career, who have not yet saved much and have debts, be better off than those at the end of many decades of work?” said Ros Altmann, director general of Saga. “Of course, part of the reason for these seemingly illogical expectations is that in the past pensioners were usually poor. And the older they were, the poorer they were. The general rises in living standards of society had left them far behind as the baby boom generations contributed to economic growth and more women worked.”

It is interesting how whenever the argument about getting rid of universal benefits like the winter fuel allowance or bus pass arises, it is the millionaire pensioners like Lord Alan Sugar who are quoted. Yet statistically among Britain’s 11 million pensioners fewer than 0.01% have an annual income of £1m or more, and less than 0.3% have liquid assets of more than £1m. The 1.8 million (16 per cent) who live in poverty (AgeUK) some how fail to get a mention in this skewed media lexicon.

The argument that older people are a drain on the younger generation simply does not stack up. One in three working mothers rely on grandparents for childcare, the value of which has been estimated at £3.9 billion. It's been estimated that grandparents who bring up their grandchildren, for whatever reason, are contributing £10bn to the economy in saved care costs. “What we see on Gransnet is older people not only looking after their grandchildren, but looking after elderly parents as well. If someone in your family has dementia, who is it who pulls everything together? It's usually a woman in mid-life. I would resist the idea that the boomer generation is parasitic,” said Geraldine Bedell of Grandsnet.

The NPC reiterates the point. “Whilst the overall cost to the Exchequer (providing pensions, age-related welfare payments and health services) was found to be £136.2bn, the revenues from older people (financial or otherwise) added up to £175.8bn. The overall net contribution by older people to the economy was therefore almost £40bn a year,” said a spokesperson for the NPC.

In addition, between £3.7 and £5.5 billion of means-tested benefits that should rightfully go to older people in Britain went unclaimed in 2009-10.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the NPC attacks efforts via the media to foster intergenerational conflict. “They are trying to whip up an attack on pensioners. If people pay in they are entitled. If they are getting a load of dough, then tax them,” said Dot, who questioned the claim that older people do not care about the young. “Do they think we’re not bothered that they (young) have nowhere to live or work. It is disgusting what is happening to young people.”

The reality is that some amongst the political elite and media are trying via the intergenerational conflict argument to drive another wedge between working people – this time old and young. The real division is between the extremely rich who under the present neo-liberal system of market economics take increasingly more of the overall cake and everyone else. It is not coincidental that there are 88 billionaires in UK, up from 53 in 2009. That the top 1,000 richest people in UK now have £450 billion of wealth – an increase of £150 billion in the past three years. Meanwhile more than 500,000 people go to foodbanks.

The attempts of those who seek to foster inter-generational conflict need to be resisted. The old trade union declaration that an attack on one is an attack on all, has never been more apposite than in the case of intergenerational solidarity as opposed to divide and rule.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

President Michael Higgins calls for forgiveness on all sides

The call of Irish President Michael Higgins for forgiveness on all sides regarding the tragedies of the past in Northern Ireland must be welcomed. It is a shame, though entirely predictable, that the call should be used as an opportunity to once again focus on deaths caused by republicans. There can never be true peace and reconciliation in Ireland until all sides come to terms with the role they played in perpetuating the conflict and that includes the British government. The BBC could do everyone a favour if it took a more even handed approach and stopped trying to rewrite history as though the whole conflict was the fault of Irish republicans.

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-26928982

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Carry on as usual... while people drown and poison themselves


What a very strange country this one is? When it comes to matters of public health and climate it is as though we have a drunk permanently in charge at the wheel. The pollution clouds of recent days provide  evidence that we are effectively poisoning ourselves. While the French cut car use when such things happen, here we just blunder on, picking up the health bills later. Business as usual, the spirit of the blitz - it is all cover for wilful ignorance born of denial as to what humankind is doing to the planet.
The reality of the dire warnings coming from the UN climate panel regarding climate change need to be heeded. Instead of adopting the flat earth society position of denying that climate change is happening the reality seems to be that the previous reports really were far too conservative and it is happening but far quicker than anyone realised. The recent floods were another example of these rapid changes. But how does the elected government react - well it puts its collective head in the sand, not even the economic opportunities that green technology offers for employment seems able to wake them from a collective stupor. Instead, in the case of the Conservatives they merely wail Don Quixote like at wind turbines, whilst Britain literally chokes and drowns

* Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 17/4/2014
Ilford Recorder - 10/4/2014

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pact chief tells Parliamentary group children are still being left at the school gates because parents have been imprisoned

The chief executive of prison charity Pact has renewed his call for a statutory duty to be imposed on the courts to check on the care and welfare needs of any child or dependent adult left behind when an individual is imprisoned.
Addressing the All Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs Andy Keen Downs pointed out that 100,000 children have at least one parent in prison, with double that number likely to undergo the same experience over the next year "I believe that it is in the clear public interest to ensure that parents and carers left behind should have sufficient information and support to enable them to care adequately for any children or dependents, who were previously being cared for by the person taken into custody. There is no such safety net as things stand," said Mr Keens Down.
Pact has brought forward a number of examples of the parents of children being imprisoned with no provision being made to care for the children. This has seen children left at the gates of schools, waiting for parents that fail to appear because they have been incarcerated.
As part of the Families Left Behind campaign, Mr Keen Downs had been seeking to get an amendment inserted in the Anti Social Behaviour Bill that would have imposed such a duty. Lords Ramsbotham and Touhig endeavoured to insert such amendment but it failed to materialise because time ran out on the Bill.
"Our appeal remains the same however – which is that a new statutory duty be created on the courts to ensure that a simple check be made following the decision to place someone in custody. We simply want to ensure that there is adequate care and support in place for children or dependent /at-risk adults, that we are not placing them at risk of harm by removing a parent or carer, and that safe short term care arrangements are in place. Our proposal therefore is that there be an open question in court. We have drafted wording for this," said Mr Keen Downs.There are around 200,000 children with a parent in prison each year. More than 60% of women prisoners are mothers and 45% had children living with them at the time of imprisonment. 25% of men in young offenders institutions are or are shortly to become fathers.

- also see -  "Untold story of child victims of crime" - September 2013 - blog
 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Bruce Kent calls for diversion of funding from nuclear weapons to address climate change

Vice president of Pax Christi Bruce Kent has called for the money being spent on nuclear weapons to be redeployed to combat climate change.
In a London debate with former foreign and defence secretrary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Mr Kent argued that the £100 billion required to renew the Trident submarine nuclear system would better be used on “addressing the real security threats Britain faces such as climate change.” 
 Mr Kent claimed that the possession of nuclear weapons  “will increase our military insecurity,” indicating a preparedness to commit “mass murder.”
He told of near misses regarding nuclear accidents, reminding that the Catholic Church has always condemned nuclear weapons. “In November 2006 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales called for nuclear weapons to be decommissioned” he said.
Mr Kent lamented that “the nuclear powers have no intention whatever of abolishing nuclear weapons, despite their rhetoric”.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind said he would like to see an end to nuclear weapons but he did not favour unilateral nuclear disarmament. “I have no difficulty about seeking disarmament as long as it is multilateral” he said, meaning that all nuclear states should disarm, not just Britain. He felt the threat of nuclear weapons prevented the Cold War becoming a “hot war” and they still act as a deterrence to countries like India and Pakistan which have stepped away from all-out war, “perhaps because both countries have nuclear weapons”.
The event marked the start of the ‘Scrap Trident Tour’ which will see Mr Kent addressing meetings over the next month in various UK cities, including Southampton, Bristol and Preston.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Teachers action was in the spirit of Bob Crow

The action of the teachers going on strike came at a timely moment, just two days after the funeral of RMT leader Bob Crow. He would have approved.

The teachers were protesting about pay, work overload and having their retirement age extended to 68 and rising. Bob Crow argued consistently for shorter working weeks, better pay and conditions for his members. All of these demands are eminently achievable in a society that is run for the common good of all its people rather than for the benefits of a few bankers and their mates.

Our society is incredibly skewed in favour of an elite that live on the backs of everyone else.

- Why in a country that has 1.5 million young people under 24 without jobs is the retirement age being extended?
-Why in a country of 88 billionaires are more than 500,000 people going to foodbanks?
-Why are efforts not being made to collect in the £42 billion estimated by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to be the cost of unpaid tax?
-Why is there such a focus on the relatively small amount of money lost through benefit fraud, while the big welfare cheats, like the low wage paying companies, rack renting landlords and non-tax paying multinational companies continue with business as usual?

If our society were ordered more along the lines suggested by Mr Crow and the teaching unions then things would be fairer all round. There would be work for all at decent wages with fewer hours being worked by more people. The rich might get a little poorer but the rest of us would have a much better quality of life. 

* Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 31/3/2014
Ilford Recorder