Review of 2010

I sat down to write a review of 2010. And it was too god damn depressing. So am going to review 1996 instead.

I had a brilliant year. It was a hot summer. I had a brief but intense relationship with a chef called Alistair- and I passed my Highers(including HIstory which was a miracle, as I missed the mock and had a bit of a car accident on the way to the exam, which I still had to sit…).

I blew up my english teacher’s christmas tree with a firework, and I learnt to cook. My best friend from that year is still my best friend, even though he irritates me. A lot.

This was nicer than writing about the return of Thatcher, Thatcher without a conscience. Bugger.

 

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Bankers Bonuses and Bookstart.

Bankers are expected to award themselves £7BILLION in bonuses this year. A reward for their fine handling of the economy. Made because their risks are underwritten with our money. In other news Bookstart, which cost the taxpayer £13million and generated donations of £56million to cover the cost has been scrapped.

I once worked with a 4 year old who had never opened a book. You don’t see that much now. When Rachel got her bookbag, she got Spot the Dog, I wish I were a dog, and Peepo, a pack of crayons and a pack of stickers so she could put her name on her books. She was thrilled. Her friends all got their bookbags on the same day- and they shared and looked at each others books.

Still, what do kids need to books for? Will Spot the Dog help her work in Tesco?  Will it bollocks. And economically speaking is cheaper if we don’t have kids who want to learn or read. They’ll be expecting to go to uni if you start em out like that. I must be economically illiterate to believe £13million for a project that gives kids a love of reading for less than the cost of the tea and biscuits to the average Whitehall department, is value for money.

Here is an audiboo of Rachel and I reading one of her bookstart books.

http://audioboo.fm/boos/91742-i-wish-i-were-a-cat-assisted-by-rachel

Cablegate and Snowpocolypse

Snowpocolypse has been here for a couple of weeks, I have given up and accepted that staying warm indoors watching snow from my window and ice on BBCSpeculate24 is the way to go. Octonauts have provided occasional respite from our third ice age.

While I was at home making mincemeat, Vince Cable like the long line of ageing vain politicians who came before, said some ill advised things to a giggling journalist baited honeytrap. He waxed lyrical about the potential for his nuclear arsenal to bring down the government. Apparently he has no conventional weapons(ie actual power) but his resignation was going to be the coalition’s version of Hiroshima. While the  honey trap giggled, he assured her of his  power, influence and importance. I assume she hoped the tape wouldn’t run out. The Telegraph assured us the entire transcript was in the public domain- and we all gasped as tensions within the coalition were brought into relief.

Then the stunning headline! Peston revealed that the Telegraph had lied- and I took a break from sorting laundry to hear Cable had not only declared war on the coalition- but their employer!! Cable waxed lyrical about how his war exended to Rupert Murdoch- and as the EU approved Rupert Murdoch’s bid for BskyB- calls came from across all side of the house that the partial Cable should not be allowed anywhere near the decision making process.

And the day ended. Cable hasn’t resigned…he is still there with his silly hat, having neutered his only weapon. I daresay he will be there for a while, occasionally dragged out to announce the gradual selling off of Great Britain to the friends of the coalition.

Rupert Murdoch had a stunning day- and is within a lick of having his BskyB deal signed sealed and delivered-with no interference from our Saint Vince. The Lib Dems can pretend that they really are fighting for us the common folks, while bunkered up with our Cabinet of millionaires. Labour had a brilliant opportunity to show Murdoch they still know which side their bread is buttered on, regardless of the cost to the British people. The British people had a good whiff of how grubby politics can be, and why Westminster is not a place where Murdoch will be fought  The Telegraph have been shown to be liars….. and Osborne, Cameron and Clegg can laugh at Cable doing his foxtrot on Strictly Come Dancing, while their staff serve up christmas dinner.

I am starting a collection for a gimp mask for Mr.Cable- so he has something to wear every time he is brought out to show us his political castration scars- now his weapon is useful for little more than stroking.

 

 

Roughly what I said at Manchester Occupation. Some reflected very much in earlier post written about students.

It appears that David Cameron was right about something. He said when he tried to roll back the welfare state, that the Big Society would step up- and here we all are.

For 6 months this coalition have left us standing like frightened rabbits, unsure as to which attack to defend ourselves against first. On the day of the budget, i realised that this government in their opening shot= had taken away my ability to feed and house my daughter through working- justifying it by calling it incentivising work and marriage. Talk of poor people not having children tehy couldnt afford, ignoring that most women couldnt afford their children without the support of either the state or their partners- because the gender pay gap opens up when you havea baby-and the cost of childcare is so prohibitive that only the highest earning women in the country come into the category of those allowed to reprduce.

I watched as they ensured that for many women the only way out of poverty is a relationship- and this is what I shouted about. I wrote, and I spoke, and I tried to make everyone listen- even when I came across as a crazy person.

I am not a politcal activist, I am not a journalist- I am a mum and an ex social worker- and I am angry, and terrified about what happens to me in this new society that the coalition want to create.

While I was shouting about this, I was choosing my line. The thing I would care about- the list of other things I could have shouted about grew overwhelming.

The NHS is being dismantled, with primary care trusts dissolved and their budgets passed to privately owned doctors surgerys who dont want that repsonsibility. Our health policy now made with the help of fast food companies, our decisions about which drugs the taxpayer should pay for made by people with profit in mind.  Cuts to our police, our schools, and the decimation of higher education funding. Increases in tuiitoin fees that would have ensured that I never went to university, and mean that even though my daughter is the first girl in her class to write her name, she may never see the inside of one of our Higher Education institutes. The social work departments which were already crumbling, who have responsibility for the most vulnerable children in our society facing decimation. Agricultural policy to suit GM food manufacturers, and cuts to the soldiers in our armed forces justofied while contracts with the richest arms companies in the world were honored. A business policy which has strangled the funding available for start ups through regional development agencies, – replaced with a regional growth fund with minimum investment of £1million. Housing benefits changes which teh governments own research shows will create a transient displaced population who have done little more than have the misfortune of being poor.

I watched as important debates about our economy and what is wrong with it, were bypassed with soundbites about the deficit, and welfare scroungers. The fact that our welfare spending in the past 12 years has grown not for the so called workless, but to subsidise low wages and ridiculoys property prices- rarely mentioned. The personal debt bubble of now many times our GDP, based on an overvalued housing market- less important than making everyone believe that those already excluded are now blamed.

David Cameron campaigned on the platform of Britain being broken- yet the only thing that had broken before the election was our banking system and bloated financial sector, and the crippling effect of years of marketisation on our public services. I watched as the coalition who promised pluralist politics shouted Labour did it every time someone farted, and I watched as Labour pretended to be our opposition even though their own manifesto is only a hairs breadth away from the manifesto of the most right wing government in our history.

All this after an alection where Nick Clegg and Vince Cable pretended they were an alternative to the Labservative consensus that has been in place since 1997.

And all the time I watched horrified as my country turned into a dystopia, I felt like noone would stand up. Noone would say hang on. We had been groomed for cuts- we had been groomed to accept that our country was to be asset stripped and handed over for profit, and the structures we fought for- our welfare state, our NHS, our education system would be sold off to the highest bidder.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>see prev post about students.

I receive emails every day, from people like me. Who are not activists, who are mothers, carers- the real big society- the people whose labour, paid and unpaid have kept out country going, and who are now persona non grata. I watched for years, with half hearted support for those willing to fight, believing the things they fought against would not have an effect in my lifetime. How wrong I was.

Never has the net of undeserving been cast so wide- the squeezed middle are the richest people in the country- with the rest of us irrelevant- but we still have power.

And now is the time to find new ways- to take the skills and courage you  have all shown and to bring it to those for whom this reality is new and frightening.

This cannot be a random coming together of feeling, or an expression of futile anger.

We need a strategy, one that encompasses politics, economics, and causes a cultural shift.

We need to be smart in responding to the economic warfare that has been declared on everyone not in the richest 20 percent of the country. The social enterprise funding David Cameron has set aside for his version of the Big Society, should be taken BY the big society- the REAL big society.

Every community project, every act of kindness, every time someone works to help someone protect themselves from the effect of this government that is protest. From the smallest act of offering to babysit, to the consciousness raising that defined the radical movements of the 1960s- from standing up with someone when they are evicted, to arguing against the benefit scrounger/soapdodger student myths. Bring in the voluntary agencies who will be forced to pretend they are carrying David Camerons flag, in order to access money- that they can be part of this movement. Understand that the people who most need help, may be alienated by the language of the left.

We are the legitimate Big Society, and we need to ensure that not only is Direct Action protest- but offering of something constructive. Something everyone can be part of.

Use the tools we have, Twitter, blogs- educate people on the reality behhind this false economy – if the language of left has been demonised, it is time to use different language to illustrate the same principles- to show people that solidarity and the Big S
oc
iety are actually the same thing. Show people that they are the market- not the obscene derivatives markets that suck the lifeblood out of our economy. Show people that what they buy is as effective a vote in a market economy, as any general election provides. Support your local exchange and trading schemes, freecycle- green projects.

Concentrate on the faultlines running under this coalition, and  bring it  down before they cause irreperable harm- and to focus the Lib Dem MPs who dont want to be disliked- but never forget that Labour are part of the problem. If you are a member of a political party make your self heard, demand that they give your party back. While Labour are in opposition and weak- use this as an opportunity to pledge on the things that we know they wont deliver. Do not let them come back into power, pretending to be our saviour and recognise that when teh coalition is gone- before the next bank bailout.

Make people aware of what is happening in Ireland right now- that there is a clear demonstration that austerity measures do not work, Do not allow this to be called an international rescue package designed to reduce contagion. Make sure people know this is another bank bailout, and that the reason it is necessary is that the risks our government have underwritten still have the potential to bring our economy down.

Encourage people to stand for election, make our parliament more accountable.  Encourage people to stand in council elections, in parish council elections. Use the hustings of our broken political process to plant the seeds of a new grassroots moevemnt.  Start the process of making people understand that for democracy towork, we have to participate again- that apathy has allowed this much damage to be done,a nd it cannot continue.

If y ou are a member of a union, use that membership – recognise the unfair restrictions placed on them and ask the union if they will help direct their resources at encouraging grassroots action.

Use the techniques that allow terrible groups like the EDL and christian fundamentalists to garner grassroots support- and take that support away from them. Learn the lessons of Stonewall- who have ensured that gay rights are at the top of the political agenda. Do not squabble over words and language-and remember that the people who need to fight most, may not share many of of the principles you hold dear. We are fighting a mindset that has been allowed to set in over generations.

Help organise protests which allow people who work to attend- on a Saturday. Protest nurserys so parents have the childcare that allows them to march- organise protesst where people can take their children and the relatives they care for. Let the Big Society spill on to our streets-= and show David Cameron exactly what we look like.

A collaboration of all the groups who have fought the neo liberal consensus, brought together with the people it now deems undeserving.

The skills and training you give each other to ensure you know how to occupy buildings, how to plan a protest, need to be passed onto people who have never done this. GO into the estates and towns worst affected by these cuts- pass on the skills that allow you to assert your power. If you can write, write, if you can speak speak. If you are a web developer offer your skills- if you know how to cook- use that.

Use the PR techniques that allowed David Cameron to rebrand our recession so effectively- contact PR people you follow on twitter- learn how to use the media properly- how to ensure publicity and legitimacy. People believe we offer no alternative to a strategy which has no hope of success- we have to stop having the debate on their terms.

Communicate- make we know what other groups are doing, we are working together. Ensure that solidarity is not just a word- but a mindset..

But most of all, we all need to recognise that this is not just a battle against one round of cuts. This is not a battle about one party, or one government. Our country has had economic stability based on the fiction of consumption for generations, and over the next few years it will end.  This is now about fighting to make democracy accountable, to return our countries economy to sustainability- to ensure that we are not sold into corporate serfdom without realising, And this may not be a short battle, but a long long war. This is no longer about scare stories of what may happen if we dont act- my generation sat back and did very little- and we are feeling the consequences of that now. And as those consequences become more severe, and prolongued- the luxury of doing nothing is gone. We need a united grassroots movement- we need the Big Society to come together. Never have we needed it more.    

 

 Let the Big Society wake up.

 

 

THis was followed by some rather interesting and feisty discussion- and am going back as soon as have time, Have to say- would strongly advise going to one of the occupations. Very interesting indeed. V interesting.

Frank Field’s poverty review. Published on New Statesman.

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At last, the coalition show their softer side. In the interests of making sure their policies are ‘fair’ for the nation’s poorest children, they have asked Frank Field, Labour MP to conduct a [i]review of poverty and the effect on children’s life chances.

To be fair, it was a sorry situation the coalition inherited. The gender pay gap widens to a massive [ii]41% when looking at the part time workforce dominated by mothers. The salary needed to cover the average cost of childcare and housing without state support sits at about £26’00[iii]0 a year, with the median average FULL TIME salary sitting at well below that. Discrimination against mothers in the workplace is so widespread that women having their children young may find they never get to experience a career on the same terms as everyone else. Mothers are concentrated in low paid part time positions that allow them to balance paid work with the unpaid 24/7 job that is parenting.

Most UK women, married or not, working or not could’t afford to breed without the support of either a partner or the state The very act of ‘breeding’ ensures they are highly unlikely to be able to provide for themselves and their children alone, and there are no guarantees that the person they ‘breed’ with, will always be a willing, able, or safe provider.

21%[iv] of working single parents are in poverty, and the rapidly escalating cost to the state of subisidising this inequality has contributed to our booming tax credits and housing benefit bill. The receipt of housing benefit and tax credits when I worked full time as a social worker, meant that after paying rent, childcare, utilities, student loan, and travel to work, I was able to spend about £100 per month on food and the clothes that my daughter had the temerity to grow out of.

There are organisations who would have shared their extensive research with Mr.Field. He could have looked at the overwhelming evidence that mothers act as ‘shock absorbers’ of poverty withi[v]n families, and the effect this has on their mental and physical health, as well as their ability to parent. He could have taken a passing glance at the plentiful evidence of widespread discrimination in the workplace experienced by mothers of young children- preventing many from entering the workplace at all. He could have looked at the exorbitant cost of childcare in the UK. Today UNICEF declared that urgent action was needed to tackle the income poverty caused by low wages of households with children in the UK.

So I read Mr Field’s report cover to cover- after all something needs to be done.

All the things I thought were crucial to understanding children’s poverty are apparently irrelevant. What children need is secure loving parenting, and parents who are poor clearly cannot be trusted to do this, so money paid to them should be diverted into ‘early years intervention care’ so that clever graduate professionals can raise children’s aspirations.

Frank Field’s report is the centrepiece of a strategy to tackle child poverty, which has so far seen massive cuts to the housing benefit, and tax credits which allow the parents of young children to work and stay in their communities. Single parents are to be forced onto JSA when their children are 5, with their housing benefit being cut a further 10% if they fail to fly in the face of widespread discrimination and secure employment, and mothers of babies as young as one will face financial[vi] sanctions for not ‘keeping in touch with the labour market’. Conditions of the replacement to the current tax credit system I[vii]t are likely to look at whether working mothers requiring state support are doing enough paid work, and dictate their working patterns accordingly.

Our ‘feminist’ equalities minister Lynne Featherstone MP announced this week that companies will not be required to address the gender pay gap in their organisations, and the legal aid which would allow individual mothers of young children to challenge employers when they experience discrimination has been dropped. [viii]Rapidly rising female unemployment is to be addressed by slashing of hundreds and thousands of jobs done predominantly by women in our public sector. Still, now that the clause in our equality bill that demands that legislation be assessed on its impact on equality has been dropped, it isn’t like anyone can point this out.

After nudging women out of the workplace and into poverty, nudging equality out of our legislation, nudging away women’s ability to seek legal help to challenge this, and slashing the meagre state funding that bridges some of that inequality- early years professionals need to teach these feckless women (and let’s face it, it is mainly women we are talking about) to centre their lives around Surestart, so they can be taught to be ‘better’. Create poverty and blame women for it’s effect.

Now I don’t want to be disingenous, I knew that part of Frank Field’s remit had been to eliminate a ‘couples penalty’ from our t[ix]ax and benefit system. [x]A penalty calculated by omitting the cost of childcare, or the earnings potential of women with children. The anti-abortion charity Christian Research Action and Education(CARE) have long been grateful for the support of Iain Duncan Smith and Frank Field in campaigning about it. Frank’s belief then was that if you took money away from single mothers, they would be more inclined to find themselves a man- thus improving their outlook. I thought the coalition had quietly dropped this obscene aim, but it would appear it has been achieved completely- without anyone bothering to announce it. Christopher Hitchens is apparently incorrect: the cure for poverty isn’t empowering women, it’s marriage or Surestart.

 Article can be found here: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/12/children-poverty-women…

 

 

The students show us how it’s done.

Since the coalition’s emergency budget and spending review, I’ve felt a responsibility to speak loudly about the effect of this economic agenda for women.  Partly because I am one of those affected, partly because I know this unrelenting attack on women undermines equality, and that the unpaid contribution to society of motherhood and caring for others, is now being punished with destitution and public condemnation.

Alice Heath, Yuan Yang (Women’s officers at Oxford Union), and Sophie Lewis (postgraduate student) organised the Gender and Equality Festival at Oxford University this year. A coming together of groups from all over the university: asking questions about how we can promote gender equality, the barriers women face- and what the future holds for us. When I was asked to address them, I was surprised and flattered, but more than a little worried.

I am not a public speaker, I’m not a journalist and I am certainly no politician. Who wants to stand up and make a tit of themselves in front of some of the brightest young minds in the country? And what if those ‘young minds’ were as hostile to me, and as ignorant as those who dwell on Cif comment boards?

I arrived, and as I spoke about the impact of motherhood on your life, your earnings potential and your choices- explaining the effect of these cuts and how I believed they undermined equality- they listened intently. During the discussion that followed they wanted to know what it was like- what I thought could be done.

I saw more evidence of the ‘Big Society’ in that room, than I have ever seen in a Conservative manifesto. A combination of empathy and intellect, which I desperately hope forms at least part of this country’s future.

 During the evening that followed I was lucky enough to meet, and spend time with many of the ‘vandals’ who had made it into CCHQ during the student protests last Wednesday.

 I sat up half the night talking with them, and after months of believing that the country would just lie back and accept what is happening, I came away with a glimmer of hope.

I didn’t meet mindless yobs, looking for any excuse to smash up a building. I didn’t meet naive ‘Wolfie Smith’ types, with little understanding of the world outside their cosseted University walls.  I certainly didn’t meet people who want a free ride from the taxpayer- to fund 3 years of drinking and kebab eating.

For the people I spoke to, this wasn’t about anger at a single pledge that was broken. This was anger that had built up over a lifetime- with the generation above them systematically selling off the futures of all who came after. Who implicitly understood their future would probably be ok – but were desperately concerned about others without their opportunities. About what a 21st century society looks like, when you try and transport it back to 18th century economic liberalism. Many came from schools where Higher Education is a distant dream for most, others from schools where attendance at Oxford is just a natural progression.

They spoke eloquently about how the welfare state had brought some of them to Oxford. Not just because tuition was affordable, but because it was what allowed their parents, or their grandparents to raise them to believe Oxford was a possibility. The welfare state had ensured some semblance of equality for their mothers. They understood what it meant to borrow £30k for your studies, if you had never seen anyone earn that much.

 They showed an understanding of how our public sector protected the country from the excesses of our private sector- and how our market economy had decoupled from the real economy. They could not understand how our government were choosing to punish the poor and the young- when there were so many greater risks to our economy.

They were articulate in expressing their fears about the privatisation of Higher Education. Their horror at the appointment of a Rupert Murdoch Professor of Communication, a L’Oreal Professor of Marketing- and posts funded by arms companies. They shared my incredulity that our government had appointed GM Food manufacturers to advise on agricultural policy, or fast food manufacturers on health.

Many of them talked about their political education. I was 23 when 2 million people marched against the war in Iraq, and were ignored. These students were barely out of childhood-their first experience of protest showing that protest on the terms of the establishment is no protest at all.

I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a society where we could enjoy the belief that we ‘had never had it so good’, Naomi Klein wrote No Logo while they were still at primary school, and since then the world has unfolded to create circumstances which made the pessimistic view of capitalism contained within that book look like a utopia.

They have seen two successive parties follow a neo liberal consensus that has brought us bank bailouts, a global war on terror- and a terrifying erosion of our civil liberties.  They fully understand the implications of rolling back our welfare state and what that means to our countries future- they had little choice but to act.

They talked passionately about the need for direct action- but resented the insinuation that damage to property was violence. Their protest not solely about tuition fees- but a demand that their government start listening to its population- not just the bankers who could accompany David Cameron on Trade Delegations to China.

They didn’t believe that smashing up CCHQ would bring change- but wanted it to make people sit up and listen. Show them protest was possible. They understood that those worst affected by the cuts would be at home trying to survive- not on the top of Milbank.

We talked at length about the need for direct action across the country. Not just in the form of protest- but in the form of strengthening communities. Making sure people were not left destitute and pushed away from their homes and families. They talked about wanting to see communities come together to protect themselves against the ‘shock and awe’ politics of our coalition government.  They understood that without that their protest was just futile anger.  They understood that this could not be a random coming together of feeling, but that people must organise and fight to protect equality and our welfare state. Not just marching or breaking windows- but by organising to ensure that people were armed with the information and support that would enable them to protect their own communities.

Their teenage years happened after the rhetoric that jus
ti
fied our domestic, foreign, social, and economic policies jumped the shark. Nick Clegg’s betrayal was no shock. Many of these students had seen it coming-and those who hadn’t had an understanding of our political system that George Osborne would do well to heed.  

They felt the same as I, when watching overpaid media representatives obfuscate real questions about our society, to protect a status quo which clearly isn’t working. The difference between me and them, was that I had expected to see different. They knew that was unrealistic. It was not they who were naive.

They were saddened that Aaron Porter(President of the National Union of Students), who had so recently been advocating Direct Action on climate change, had distanced himself from their actions, in a shallow attempt to protect his future employability. One girl described a ludicrous situation where a Student Union Banner could not be displayed during a march, as the organisation had not ‘given a mandate’.  They saw their university producing another generation of politicians, ignorant of how our country functions, and interested in preserving wealth and privilege for the few.

Through the prism of life at a University which produces Prime Ministers and Presidents these students had used their education to understand the world they lived in, and were willing to risk arrest to protect its’ future. The fears I had for women affected by the cuts, not separate to theirs- but another facet of the same problems.

Our environment, the survival of the businesses in our real economy, our higher education system, our healthcare system, the safety net that ensures people keep their choices even when they are poor, equality and democracy itself- all worth fighting for. These students willing to put themselves (and their very bright futures) at risk to do so.

After months of feeling like our country was sleepwalking into a horror story that we would all sit back and accept, I got the train home believing that change was possible- reassured that this generation would be more influential than the self interested baby boomers dominating our House of Commons and mainstream media. And I was happy to tell them that the people where I lived, were cheering them on.