East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Getting ‘There’

Green Train                   Transport_Lower_Fares           green bike co2 footprint

“I can’t take my chauffeur everywhere” past Conservative candidate for Tottenham stated when he was caught for drunk driving. That comment by Derek Laud could be argued to sum up government attitudes to public transport; that it is simply not on their radar even when it is irresponsible not to consider it.  Successive governments have lacked the will to prioritize public transport and invest the time and money needed to update services and improve access. Labour’s John Prescot promised in 1993 that “any privatisation of the railway system which there is, on the arrival of a Labour government will be quickly and effectively returned to public ownership”.  Promises broken. The Luis tram in Dublin connects the city efficiently and safely. We can shoot across Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, France and yet for us progress crawls and is often derailed by indifference.  The Green Party understands that an integrated, affordable, reliable green public transport system is part of the structure that can help build resilient, healthy economies and communities. Public transport is a tool for people and planet. It also plays an important role in supporting enterprise. Businesses large and small rely to some extent on public transport systems. It is needed by local food networks, producers and shops. This month our regional website recorded Green Councillor Richard Mallender, of Rushcliffe Borough Council and Green MEP candidate Katarina Boettge’s reactions to uneven public transport  expenditure: eastmidlands.greenparty.org.uk/news.html/2013/02/01/greens-slam-hs2-proposal. This post is an opening up of that debate.

While an increasing amount can be dealt with in the virtual world, via internet and satellite, there are times when human to human contact is the missing link. Meetings and conferences like the  Green Party Spring Conference and 40th birthday celebration this week rely on public transport beyond one high speed link. Local and regional services should not suffer for one high speed line.

Mobility for many is limited by inadequate public transport, often coupled with economic injustice, with isolation posing threat to the physical and mental well-being of many. Those reliant on public transport include the elderly, those with disabilities, students, young people and parents with young children. Buses and trains form vital life-lines to shops, post offices, places of work and study, play and social groups. These services are often unreliable, infrequent, expensive, vanishing. Instead of such retraction of service we need to broaden access and appeal. Air quality, public and planet health are adversely affected by congestion and over reliance on cars. Fuel poverty increases with over use of fossil fuels and energy security is threatened. Cycle lanes, walk-ways and better rail and bus networks with lower fares offer a healthful, sane and regenerative system in place of the predominant congesting crawl of cars squabbling over parking space. People are travelling ever further from home to work as local communities, economies and eco-systems are undermined.

If we are to support the strengthening of our communities and the building of a sustainable and durable economy we need efficient, affordable public transport. We need it to connect people; to empower ethical enterprise and those at risk of isolation, poverty and social exclusion. Improving services such as bus and trains creates and secures more jobs. This is needed in these times of economic insecurity. Improved air quality protects our health. Good public transport, efficient, green, safe, affordable, accessible is win-win. We are told it is not a priority. Frankly, what of importance does seem a priority in much of mainstream political rhetoric at the moment? The NHS, schools and other public services are struggling through cuts while we spend billions on weapons and millions on creating new roles in management. It is not a matter of lack of money as much as irresponsible lack of vision. Let us not allow those who rely on chauffeurs to dictate our direction and those who break their word to define our reality.

Happy travels and blue skies in this season of no leaves on the line 🙂


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Child Poverty Rising – action not redefinition of poverty please!

A modern Oliver Twist

A modern Oliver Twist

Over one in four children in the UK are living in poverty according to Child Poverty Action Group UK. In 2010 the Child Poverty Act came into being in the UK. In 2013 child poverty is still set to rise under current government policies. Last year Save the Children and Shelter are among NGOs who have made appeals on behalf of children living in our neighbourhood.  Children are the future, but in a political system of short-term fixes, they are not prioritized. In some areas 50 to 70 % of children are in poverty and this includes areas of the East Midlands. This does not mean absence of the latest trainers or toy. Child poverty can mean hungry or malnourished, cold, or in insecure housing, deprived of the basics. Many are homeless. In November last year The Independent reported a 60 % increase within 12 months of children and pregnant women forced to live in B&Bs.  Even more have insufficient food, clothes or too little heating to thrive. Many are not financially able to socialize with other children or buy stationary for school. Some serious physical and mental illness in children has poverty as a factor.   As child poverty rises, rather than taking measures to prevent the poverty, the government are changing the way that poverty is measured.  Many children may not be counted under proposed changes. I believe every child counts.

The Child Poverty Action Group states well over half these children are in homes where at least one parent works.  The Government are removing the measurement of relative poverty; poverty defined as relative to the standards of living in a society at a specific time. As more and more people are in poverty our overall standards of  acceptable poverty may be changing. Yet the relative poverty measurement includes the poverty threshold or bread line, under which no one should fall. The bread-line measurement is one that protects by opening up help to those who fall below its threshold. In proposed changes instead emphasis will be placed on  how many children are in single parent households and how many have a parent with a mental health condition. These sorts of calculations will be the focus. Reality is more complex, with poverty spiraling from some individual error or illness and massive system failure. Causes and symptoms of poverty can be tangled together. However, under new measurements depression and broken families can be seen as the cause of poverty rather than poverty being a cause of  depression, broken families and a whole host of other entangled social problems. It will become even easier to shift blame onto single mums and dads or on perceived unfit parenting.  It will be easier to make much poverty invisible as children disappear from view. It will be another way of making the vulnerable into scapegoats and valuing profit more than we value people.

Poverty kills. It kills chances and choices too. It isolates. It hides. It divides. It comes in many forms and is magnified by overcrowded schools as well as the squeezing and stretching of the public sector and volunteer organisations. What is our government doing? It is in a process of reclassifying poverty to change the statistics instead of tackling the problem. As I write, the review of how poverty is measured in the UK nears its end. Many of the one in four or more children that now have too little to eat, dress or keep warm adequately may no longer be classified as poor. The blame and responsibility will be placed even more upon single parents for being single, to those with mental health issues or disabilities for being ill. If we allow this to govern our perception, shame and statistics may hide poverty deep and many children may vanish. They will vanish from possible bright futures and chosen careers, they will vanish into depression, abuse or drug misuse. They will vanish into illness caused or made worse by cold or malnutrition but we’ll be told it’s OK because they won’t be counted, they won’t be seen on revised statistics. In the work houses of previous centuries children who died of poverty were listed as suffering from ‘failure to thrive’. Will we use a different name for it now?

children with (mild) rickets

Before the NHS was founded children having diseases like rickets were common. A disease often caused by malnutrition which softens and deforms the bones. Rickets is on the rise again according to NHS, Guardian and other sources. Hardly a way to help children stand strong in the future. This happens as more children and their families are dependent on food parcels and, as Mike so eloquently wrote in our blog’s previous post, school dinners are being undermined too, as is the NHS. Social exclusion, financial limitations and lowered self-worth don’t help with healthful activity levels either.  I feel sometimes as if we were travelling back in time. More alarmingly, I see people’s sense of what is OK shifting as the working poor and those not able to work are pitted against one another. Unemployment is rising because both government and many businesses translate cost cutting and waste reduction as job cutting. More people are poor so we are taught to blame the poor.

Children are among the most vulnerable to the way economic, social and environmental crisis are being mismanaged. In so many ways children are developing and dependent. Public service cuts, we are told, are the only way.  The resultant rise in unemployment affecting family and home security. It also means loss of services for most in healthcare, education and safety and waste of skills is part of the price children are paying. Children are inheriting economic poverty, health poverty, food and soil poverty and all too often the poverty that breaks the spirit of a person; their self worth and future possibilities cracked. Yet billions spent on new roles of police commissioners in shrinking police forces, trillions spent on outmoded weapons or lost in unpaid taxes of the super-rich are seen as normal. Our lives and political priorities are most certainly mis-measured.  Yet these new measurements seem to be moving in the wrong direction; they seem to be the measurements of misdirection and not seeing.

Many believe in the notion of keeping your head down; that it will limit injury. Sometimes it just stops us protecting ourselves and others. If water rises those with their heads down will drown. It may be too late to change how this government counts children in poverty. It is not too late to see children are in real poverty, to demand proper action  and to challenge measurements as and where they do not work. The children on your street, in the school, in your home count. Their futures are entwined. Child poverty is real and needs to be prioritized as central indicator of the state of our nation, not re-classified and veiled. I believe Green Party anti-austerity policies, support of robin hood tax, NHS, schools, a living wage and localized sharing economies places focus back on what is vital and protects children from poverty. I believe strongly we must build on this.


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Government Axes School Meals Trust.

In 2005 Jamie Oliver shocked the nation when he highlighted the poor nutritional quality of food served to children in many schools. Basically they were eating junk food, loaded with fat and salt and he reasoned that this was not good for them.  In an online petition over 270,000 people agreed and after much hard work by Jamie and his team of originally sceptical dinner ladies, the Government of the day set up the School Food Trust.  The purpose of the Trust was to replicate Jamie’s work in schools across the country. 

 

The importance of this work can not be understated.  The most up to date figures published by the Department of Health for obesity in children are for 2010, when 30% of children [2-15 years] were either over weight or obese, and 16% of all children were obese. These figures have doubled over a decade, so we can presume that the true figure for child obesity is now much higher.  Unfortunately the Department of Health either doesn’t know or isn’t telling us about more up-to-date data.  This is a health time bomb.  Already obesity related illness, including type 2 diabetes and heart conditions are costing the NHS £1billion a year.  An international team reporting in the Lancet estimated that by 2030, 40% of the UK population would be obese, accounting for 2% of the NHS budget.  If the Government really wanted to get NHS spending under control it would take these statistics seriously and work to get the nation’s weight under control, starting with the kids.

 

Unfortunately the Government is not taking this seriously, its only answer to NHS spiralling costs is to privatise it. Its response to the poor state of young peoples’ diets is to stop funding the School Food Trust in order to save £15 million. Since 2006, the Trust has been asked to survey school meals to determine progress to healthier, low fat and low salt meals.  This year the survey will not take place.  Instead, Ministers have commissioned the founders of the Leon chain of fast food restaurants in London to report on school food.

 

There is no need for such a report, the Trust has that information and, working with Local Authorities and all interested parties, it has a programme to improve the food that young people eat and also to engage them in food preparation and production.  So what is the true purpose of the Leon ‘report’?  We can presume it is about providing private catering to Michael Gove’s de facto privatised Academies. They won’t want to be burdened with nutritional standards for school meals any more  than they want to be burdened with a national curriculum or national standards of employment for staff.  When it comes to a competition between profit and quality, for school dinners at least we might suspect that it is quality that will lose

 

 The Government will as usual argue that it must get public spending under control, yet it can find money when one of its pet projects is in need. To put that £15 million saving in to perspective: the Government is funding a major up-grade at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in preparation for fabricating the warheads of a new generation Trident missiles.  This up-grade is costing £5 Billion.  Wouldn’t you think that the Government might be able to trim just £150 million of this ridiculous and immoral expenditure, in order to secure the funding of the School Food Trust for 10 years – an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of our children, at the cost to an organisation dedicated to Weapons of Mass Destruction?

By Mike Shipley, EMGP.