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.

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

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. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

People unite to give voice to multicultural Britain at Stand up against racism and fascism march

The diverse face of multicultural Britain was evident among the 10,000 people who marched from Parliament Square to a rally in Trafalgar Square yesterday in protest against racism and fascism.
The Stand up to racism and fascism event to mark UN anti-racism day was organised by the TUC and Unite Against Fascism.
The drums beat out as the march began from in front of Parliament, winding its way up Whitehall, past Downing Street and onto Trafalgar Square. “We are here today to tell Mr Cameron that we are all in this together, no matter what race, religion or gender ..and he’d better take notice,” said Katie Dunning, from the Communication Workers Union.
There were groups from across the spectrum represented: the unions, Roma and Irish Travellers, trades councils, faith groups, miscarriage of justice and death in police custody campaigns and domestic worker defence bodies.
Among the speakers were Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, Pax Christi vice president Bruce Kent, Farooq Farad from Muslim Council of Britain and Gloria Mills from Unison.
George the poet gave a powerful message of resistance, whilst in the square devout Muslims mixed with the odd Sherlock Holmes impersonator – deer stalker and pipe in hand.
The overall message was one of solidarity against the racist ferment in the media, with repeated attacks on the promotion of the anti-migrant message of UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his fellow travellers of the far right.
The Stand up to racism and fascism protest saw the often ignored majority coming out for a more diverse and inclusive country than that often portrayed in the mass media or in the nearby House of Commons.
At the rally, Labour MP Diane Abbott attacked the political debate on immigration, with its constant scape goating of minorities.
She claimed that it is not immigrants that cause low wages but bad employers. Diane also challenged the attacks on immigrants for using up health service resources. “Without immigrants there would not be an NHS,” said Diane. “It is time to stand up against racism and fascism. It is time to let the Mail and the rest of the tabloid press know that they don’t speak for us. There is an election coming and we can’t allow the scapegoating of migrants.”
Gloria Mills of Unison claimed that Britain is becoming more unequal as a result of the application of the austerity agenda, with black and ethnic minorities being hardest hit.
She called for an end to the toxic debate on immigration. “Migrant workers are being exploited, we must mobilise,” said Gloria.  
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn questioned what sort of society there would be in Britain without immigration over the past 70 years. “If there hadn’t been migration into Britain since World War II, what kind of education, health, transport system and industries  would there be, what sort of society would we have,” said Jeremy, who claimed the society would be poorer and less diverse without immigration.
Veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, the vice president of Pax Christi, described UKIP as an example of “the worst of British political life.”
He claimed the party had fed on that same arrogant spirit that made Britain a nuclear power. “It’s a we’re British and don’t want other people here attitude,” said Bruce, who recalled when he had his prostate operation, how he had an Egyptian doctor and African nurse. “It is possible to live together in peace and harmony on this planet.”
The co-ordinator of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) Rosie Bairwal claimed that UKIP don’t promote good community relations and are opposed to multiculturalism. “They don’t appreciate the contribution that migrants make to our country. Their damaging narrative is often about demonization rather than promoting good community relations,” said Rosie, who stressed how important it is that faith communities show support for action like the demonstration.“It is important that faith communities show their support for this demonstration and a strong determination to challenge all forms of racism and discrimination.”
CARJ are concerned about the negative narrative there is around migrants, which it claims is based on fear. “This demonstration is important because it is about the positive contribution that migrants make to our society,” said Rosie, who also criticised the lack of political leadership on the issue. The political debate has been reduced to which party can cut immigration by the largest amount, no party is making out the argument for the positive value of immigration.
Rosie suggested that had Britain not been the recipient of EU migrants from the Eastern European accession countries since 2004 the economic position would be a lot worse now. The positive economic impact of migrants coming to the UK, where they often to not use the public services which their taxes have paid to provide is rarely mentioned.
A study by University College London that looked at the fiscal impact of the migration of recent eastern European migration found that migrants contributed 37% more in taxes than the cost of the public services they consumed.
A research report for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that from 2011 the estimated the value to the UK economy of international students at over £14 billion per year.
Colin Bell, a CWU member, stressed how important it was for people to stand up for multiculturalism. “It is important to show that we the majority are united. I do not believe in belittling anyone – we all breath the same air,” said Colin.
Linda Roy, national equalities officer at the CWU, saw the demo as a time when people came out to say “no to racism and the far right.”
Linda felt the 10,000 on the march were reflective of feelings throughout the country, something that does not come across in the mass media. “There are very diverse people here, look at the banners. We are saying we are here and are going to be here for the duration. We want to stamp out racism and fascism,” said Linda. “We don’t accept the far right and their views, we are here fighting all the way for equality.”