East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Commemorating workers memorial day

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Remember also, those who gave their lives at work . . .

I am writing this on the first anniversary (24th April) of the fire in the Bangladesh garment factory that killed over 1100 workers. One year on their families still wait for adequate compensation and large retailers still “bring to the market” clothing made in unsafe conditions by over exploited workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Monday April 28th is Workers’ Memorial Day, when trade unions across the world remember fellow workers who have lost their lives due to accidents at work, which have often been caused by a lack of health and safety measures by employers, and reaffirm their commitment to creating and maintaining safe working environments. As the TUC says on its website The purpose behind Workers Memorial Day has always been to “remember the dead; fight for the living” … the latter can best be done by building trade union organisations, and campaigning for stricter enforcement of health & safety laws with higher penalties for breaches.

Deaths at work due to poor Health and Safety measures are not confined to poor countries. In the UK of particular concern is the danger faced by workers on building sites. 760 site workers have been killed since 2001, more than the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined during the same period. In 2012-13, 5.2 million working days were lost due to injury at work and there were 148 fatalities. After a steady decline in recent years, there is a serious concern that deaths and injuries are showing an increase.

There has been a decrease in trade union membership with an increased casualisation of the workforce in recent years, something that is particularly strong on building sites. To compound this problem, the budget of the Health and Safety Executive was cut by 35% in 2011, which has resulted in fewer inspections and fewer prosecutions of negligent employers. This puts more workers lives and health at risk. The Green Party agrees with the TUC that we need a strong strategy on Health and Safety from the European Commission to raise standards throughout Europe. We also recognise that actions by politicians in Parliaments need to be combined with action by trade unions, fighting, like the Green Party, for the Common Good.

Vote Green 2014

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Vote for a Green New Deal

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Amidst all the froth that is 24 hour news, and away from the unhealthy warmongering on both sides that is happening in Ukraine, two recent publications have received some warranted attention in the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, the recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a call for action by governments to address potentially calamitous global warming. The third in a series (the first report focussed on emphasising the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and has been caused primarily by human activity and the second outlined the catastrophic consequences of failing to take action) the report concentrates on the actions that can and must be taken to address global warming, and stresses that is entirely possible to take these necessary actions providing there is the political will to do so.

The authoritative report, the cumulative work of over 1200 international experts, concludes that the cheapest and least risky route to dealing with global climate change is to abandon all dirty fossil fuels in coming decades, and to invest instead in renewable energy, with the aim of quadrupling renewable electricity generation by 2050. Whilst lamenting the failure by governments to provide an adequate response up to now, it says that it is still not too late to act, providing governments, cooperating on an international basis, step up to the mark.

Secondly a new book, called ‘Capital in the Twenty First Century’ by the increasingly renowned French economist Thomas Piketty provides concrete proof of what many of us have suspected for years, namely that capitalism, far from promoting the economic well-being of all, entrenches inequality and privilege, which it tends to increase over time. The study, based on a more detailed analysis of wealth and income data than has ever been previously carried out, concludes that:

“Capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based”

Piketty argues that the structural inequality which capitalism creates must be countered by high levels of taxation of both income and wealth, an initiative which will require international cooperation between governments with a common determination to take on wealth and privilege.

These two important publications are well timed for the Green Party’s European Election Campaign. We have recognised that the world’s ecological and economic crises must be addressed together. Moreover, we have developed a programme which aims to do just that. Under our Green New Deal, increased taxation of rich individuals and large companies, and a much tighter control of banks and other financial institutions, will provide the resources for increasing the incomes of the poorest, and for defending and improving the public services on which we all rely. It will also involve the greening of our infrastructure, creating well paid employment insulating homes and other buildings, promoting energy-efficient public transport and transforming our energy production so that it is primarily based on renewables. Together with Green parties across Europe we are offering a real programme for change, based on sustainable economics and social justice.

Of course Greens in the UK, and across Europe, don’t think that the election of a few more Green MEPs will be enough in itself to solve the world’s problems. Indeed we recognise that real change is not the sole responsibility of elected politicians. Greens support and get involved in trade union and community campaigns in defence of jobs and services, and against so called ‘welfare reform’. Greens have been at the forefront of direct action campaigns against fracking and other forms of dangerous energy. Nevertheless, we do think that success in the forthcoming Euro elections will represent an important step in building the movement that is needed to secure a sustainable and socially just future for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

Green Party members in the East Midlands will be working hard in the next few weeks promoting our message of Hope. Our hope is that our candidates, including myself, will be elected to the European Parliament on May 22nd. With your help, that is possible.

Vote Green. For the Common Good.


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Housing

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Supporters of Margaret Thatcher and her legacy often point to her housing policies as her greatest achievement. By creating a “freedom of the market” and a “property owning democracy” through the sale of council housing and the removal of ” unnecessary red tape”   in the private rented sector,  she is claimed to have increased prosperity for all (except perhaps the “feckless”) and to have increased the number of “stakeholders” in a society which at other times she claimed did not exist!

As with the rest of the Thatcherite legacy the success of her housing policies is myth rather than reality. Indeed the consequences have been disastrous, particularly for most of those not even born when she began her destructive and disastrous rule.

The sale of council housing to sitting tenants was certainly an electorally popular policy. In truth it had very little to do with the principles of the market economy. Large discounts were offered to existing tenants who chose to exercise their “right to buy” and many, quite understandably took up the offer, particularly those who were tenants of the high quality homes built by local authorities in the decades before and after the Second World War.

While it may be hard to object to working class tenants being given a subsidy to buy a property, the problem was that the homes that were sold were not replaced. Indeed local councils, who had built and paid for the properties in the first place were not allowed to spend the money raised from the sales on building new homes.

There had never been “council homes for all” but within a decade or so there was a chronic shortage of “social housing” (including housing owned by housing associations and by companies set up to take over much of the remaining council housing) in many areas.

Today many areas has become most areas. In Nottingham there are 13,000 on the waiting list and only 2,500 properties become available per year. In Derbyshire Dales, where, like much of rural Britain, home ownership has become unaffordable for most of the local population, the council website warns against expectation of success for those needing social housing, pointing out that many properties receive over 100 bids in the new “choice based” letting system which they, like other councils, have introduced and which in reality offers no choice at all to most on the waiting list. Across the East Midlands as a whole 120,000 were on social housing waiting lists in 2012, a figure which is likely to have increased since then and which does not include the many more who have given up waiting or have been put off or barred from applying (its one chance only these days and if, for instance, you have ever been in rent arrears you can expect to be refused permission to even join the queue).

So what happens to all those who cannot get social housing and cannot afford to buy?

They have no alternative but to try and find somewhere to rent from a private landlord.

Which brings us on to the another, less publicised but equally influential Thatcherite housing reform: the reduced protection for tenants renting from private landlords. Alongside the reduction in the availability of council and other “social” housing, and offered as an alternative to it,  the Thatcher government sought to increase the number of private landlords and private tenancies. To make becoming a private landlord more attractive, and more profitable, rent controls were abolished and the eviction of a tenant was made straightforward, with the tenant having no defence and not having had to have breached any tenancy condition.

The consequence of this? There has been a huge increase in the availability of private tenancies, presented as offering “more choice in the housing market” but in reality, for those unable to afford rents at the luxury end of the market, tenants have fewer rights and little security. Of course not all landlords behave unreasonably, but there is almost no comeback on those that do, whilst even “responsible” landlords are tempted to increase rents and minimise expenditure on repairs and maintenance when their primary aim is private profit, whilst always keeping open the option of evicting the tenant in order to sell the property with vacant possession. For many  private tenants there is no opportunity to obtain a permanent home, with the threat of eviction always only two months away, or any expectation that profit driven landlords will carry out anything more than essential repairs.

Many private tenants no doubt continue to aspire to home ownership, which is likely to remain out of reach for many of them, with house prices rising again and wages continuing to stagnate. There is growing evidence that only those benefiting from inherited wealth and / or handouts from relatives can afford to become owner occupiers in large parts of the country, whilst many families face the prospect of moving from one short term private tenancy to another, their children often not in one place long enough to build lasting friendships, and not even being sure about which school they will be going to from one term to the next. With little or no hope of owner occupation or of obtaining the secure, affordable social housing that most of them would prefer.

What does the Green Party say ?

– that everyone is entitled to secure and affordable housing

– that better use should be made of the existing stock, with local councils being given strengthened powers against  speculative landlords and owners deliberately keeping housing empty.

– that where and when new housing does need to be built it is done to the highest environmental standards and is affordable for most of those needing housing, whether to rent or to buy.

– that private tenants should have more rights and better protection. In particular Assured  Shorthold Tenancies, giving landlords the right to end tenancies without good cause, should be abolished .

Our essential belief is that housing, like health, education and public services in general, is  too important to be left to the market to provide and that secure and sustainable housing is a right and not a privilege.

Decent housing for all, for the common good.


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Greens get social priorities right

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

This government would have us believe that we are better off managing on our own.

Get the state “off our backs”, allow us to “keep more of our own money” and we will “manage just fine”. So it commits itself to continuing to reduce taxes, Corporation Tax on companies (reduced from 28% to 21% since 2010) and Inheritance Tax (already only paid on 5% of estates and set to be far fewer if Cameron and co are re-elected) in particular.

Meanwhile public services, particularly those provided by local authorities, are slashed to the bone, and spending on “welfare” is squeezed and scorned, with the reasonable desire to have a “spare bedroom” denied to those too poor to ” pay their own way” , and with high quality Surestart child care provision, and Day Centres for the elderly and disabled, all but wiped off the map.

Finding decent employment, that pays well , guarantees regular hours and offers long term prospects has become ever harder, even for those with degrees that graduates have gone into huge debt to acquire. Meanwhile finding somewhere decent to live has become a nightmare. House prices, already unaffordable for most people unable to borrow “from the bank of Mum and Dad”, are rising again and a chronic lack of “social housing” (i.e. housing with affordable rents, well maintained and offering security of tenure) means reliance on renting privately from those whose motive is to make money. Prospective landlords are encouraged to “buy to let”, perhaps in the hope of securing a decent retirement income, occupational pension schemes having been largely been closed down as “unaffordable” ( not true for MPs of course, who still enjoy gold plated pensions, but 25% of them have still taken the opportunity to become private landlords)

What is the alternative ? Well the Green Party had a fully costed manifesto in the 2010 election, which proposed cutting spending on warfare but not welfare and set out how we could create employment through a programme to “green” our energy, transport and housing, whilst providing decent public services for all and recognising that everyone had the right to live in a secure and warm home.

It is a programme needed more than ever now and could and can be paid for by increasing taxation on the rich and large companies, making the required effort to collect the taxes due (this government allows wealth to escape to tax havens and reduces the number of tax inspectors who collect ten times the amount they earn)

More than anything it is a programme based on a belief that we are better off living in a society based on principles of cooperation and compassion. It also recognises the urgent need to tackle ecological and environmental destruction, including dangerous climate change, a task that will require the actions of democratic and responsive governments and cannot be left to the “free market ”

Greens in the UK also recognise that we cannot solve the challenges we face (unemployment, social injustice, climate chaos) in isolation . In the European Parliament elections next month we will be standing alongside Greens across Europe, offering a real alternative to the failed policies of austerity. The Green Parties of Europe have agreed a common manifesto, which includes the following

“We Europeans should combine our own strengths, which is what sovereignty means, in order to shape our own future. Instead of socially deaf and environmentally blind austerity, we propose three coherent avenues to sustainability: fighting unemployment,poverty ; and all forms of social injustice; transforming our economies with innovation and eco-efficient solutions to tackle climate change and environmental degradation; re-regulating the financial industry so it solves the real economy. We call this a European Green New Deal”

Vote Green on May 22nd and encourage others you know to do so too……For the common good.

Read The European Green Party Manifesto here.

 


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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

According to Medline Plus, ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. ‘Standard Care’ is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapists, practice.
Complementary medicine is used together with standard medical care. An example is using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical care. An example is treating heart disease with chelation therapy (which seeks to remove excess metals from the blood) instead of using a standard approach.
So before I discuss further my views on complementary and alternative medicine, let’s look first at the framework and some relevant points including Green Party policies on improving health, treatment and a patient-centered care approach.
What is health? When I used to deliver training about mental health, I always stressed the point that physical as well as mental health is a state or a continuum; it does not mean “illness” or “being healthy”. According to the World Health Organisation “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
The Green Party has well-thought, detailed and sound health policies, for full details please see http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he However, I will briefly outline some core concepts. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he
Ideally we address health prior to any illness, which means we must identify and then address risk factors, some are already well known like poor diet, others have been poorly researched due to the lack of funding, or due to large corporations lobbying. For example, there has been some alleged correlations between an increased cancer risk when living close to a nuclear power station; however making such claims would risk being sued by the industry (which holds a lot of power and funds). Another problem is that we might be scientifically aware of a correlation, but nobody acts upon it. The government’s own statistics show that in the UK 29,000 people die every year from air pollution. But little is being done.
The Green Party wants to collect data, complete additional research and then ultimately address environmental factors that cause ill health. Furthermore various Green policies would anyway ultimately improve our health since we would address issues like air and water pollution; and encourage eating more local, organic food and less animal products. Basically a Greener living would not only help the planet but also all of us. Additionally we need to improve education for all so that individuals can make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices and potential health risks.
The Green Party promotes a holistic understanding of health; furthermore we cannot address a symptom of an illness without understanding the individuals general health, mental health and their environmental situation. For example, we are aware that people with mental health problems tend to smoke more than others. If a medic would want to encourage somebody in this position to stop smoking without understanding that smoking may be a coping strategy for their poor mental health, it is unlikely to be successful and may even leave the individual feel unsupported, and not understood which may worsen their mental health. Equally, treating someone for a respiratory disease like asthma with conventional medicines, whilst they live next to a power station, could be considered as short sighted and actually imposing additional risks of side effects whilst not addressing the cause. So we want a holistic and integrative approach to health.
Another important aspect of the Green Party’s policies on health is the focus on the individual being empowered and enabled to make choices. I am a psychotherapist and I feel passionately about the need for each person to be central in their treatment; without the individual’s participation and ability to make an informed choice, the treatment outcome is likely to be jeopardised.
The pharmaceutical industry holds a lot of power; and I do question their integrity. Their focus is on illness rather than on supporting health. It is well known that they use cartel methods to fix prices. I struggle to trust their research methods, their own evaluation of effectiveness and risk factors, since ultimately they want to make a profit. I also question the industry’s lobbying, which has caused for example patients with depression to be easily prescribed antidepressants without the opportunity to first seek counselling. I see regularly clients as a psychotherapist who have been on medication for many years, often with terrible side effects, whilst their GP has been reluctant to refer them on to counselling. If they then come to counselling, the NHS only offers six sessions, which is in cases of long term mental health problems just not enough. So it is my experience that drugs are prescribed too easily, and that patients have little say when it comes to their treatment options.
So that leads me finally to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). I have some personal experiences with homeopathy, which I used once for a minor problem. To be honest I was rather skeptical but gave in to the advice of a dear friend. I must admit I was astounded about the quick and apparent improvement of my problem. I am fully aware that this could have been caused by the placebo effect, but so what? It worked, and completely without side effects. Homeopathic remedies do not actually contain any real chemical content, but the “memory” of the original substance. I know it sounds strange, but it worked.
There are a number of different CAM, and I do believe we must be careful as some can be extremely controversial for very good reasons. For example I do not support Chinese medicine that contains substances or parts from animals (often endangered species). So I would always ensure that the medicines are produced and distributed with safe, sustainable and green methods.
It is also known that some CAM can cause side effects or interaction with other drugs, therefore one must be cautious and seek advice before taking any. I would recommend, as it is Green Party policy, that all drugs including CAM are appropriately labelled with clear outlines of risks, side effects and possible drug interactions.
Many people take vitamins and food supplements in the hope that any potential deficiencies from their poor diet are being addressed. I am very skeptical about this, and I have seen a German documentary of a meta study that clearly showed that these supplements, specifically for antioxidants, are not only ineffective but actually increase the fatality rate. Apparently the supplement industry has been fighting to have these claims withdrawn.
The Green Party promotes a healthy mixed and balanced diet from organic and locally grown produce, which would make this need for supplements void, and it tastes better too!
I visited Weleda in March, we discussed medical regulation here in the Uk and in the EU, we further agreed on the necessity of a sustainable, organic and Green approach which is central to their production of cosmetics and medicines. I have since read about their CAM, here in the UK Weleda produces their Anthroposophic Medicine that constitutes an international school of medical thought and practice developed as an extension of modern scientific medicine, practised exclusively by qualified medical professionals. They do appreciate conventional medicine but believe that a human being has additional dimensions and to treat someone we must take the holistic view of healing. For example, something I appreciate as a psychotherapist when someone has a medical issue, we need to take their psychological dimension into account. Furthermore counselling or some creative outlet may help an individual to deal with their psychosomatic issues that are manifested physically. I regularly see clients who are being treated for various medical illness like stomach problems, which are actually caused by some suppressed emotions. So treating them with conventional medicines are just addressing the symptom not the cause.
Weleda is compatible with my personal and professional view of an integrative treatment approach, and I believe it is also in line with Green Party policies. But it must be foremost a personal choice.
I also think we must distinguish between alternative and complementary; I personally would be reluctant to use alternative drugs alone ie: not using any conventional medicine if facing a serious health concern. But I know that these treatments, correctly dispensed have their place in a holistic health policy.
I would support research, sound regulation and clear labelling for CAM as well as all conventional medicines. The Green Party’s policies do provide a framework that is compatible with CAM. It is right that people are given a choice – an informed choice.


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We have a choice, our children won’t

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidate

Science was once sceptical about climate change. Nearly 200 years ago, a few scientists, including John Tyndall, demonstrated that some gases in the air could absorb heat. This they realised was why the Earth was warmer than it should be considering its distance from the sun. So the inevitable question arose: what would happen if those gases changed in concentration? It was known that carbon dioxide was one of these warming gases and it was known that burning coal gave off the same gas. But the conventional view was that the Earth system was so big and complex that nothing we humans could do could have much effect. We surely couldn’t change the climate.

But the question remained, ‘what if?’ By 1938 it was possible to measure that the level of CO2 in the air was rising, so, it was reasoned, the temperature must rise. Science remained sceptical, if there was an effect it would take millennia to be noticed. By the 1960’s instrumentation had improved to a point that it was possible to measure average global temperatures. The work of the next decades demonstrated this rise to the point that science was won over. The argument was then about the effect and the time-scale. Was there cause for concern or was this a matter that safely lay in the long grass? Everyone hoped for the latter, global economic policy depended on it.

The work continued, concern rose, the evidence mounted, the temperature was rising, data from land, sea air and space told the same story. Science looked at all different explanations, that is how science works. The only explanation that explained the data was that greenhouse gases being produced by human activity, notably carbon dioxide, were the cause. That was the settled consensus of science by 2013. The remaining discussion was about the effect and the timing.

This week’s report from the IPCC goes a long way to providing the remaining answers, and they are not reassuring. The impacts on life on Earth does not lie in the long grass, they are right here with us now. As the atmosphere warms it becomes more unsettled. The behaviour of the atmosphere is what we call climate, as it warms so the climate changes to a more unsettled state. This is the prediction of the climate scientists.

It is not isolated events that indicate this change, these have always occurred. It is the frequency of extreme events, and each year is serving up a new set of broken records. This year we are off to a flying start with extreme weather events, from violent cyclones and rain in Indonesia, a polar vortex freezing much of north America, while California battled wild fires and drought in a record January heatwave, and of course the floods. What more will the year serve up, and at what cost in terms of lives and lost livelihoods?

The report makes clear that no one will be immune from the effects – except perhaps the super rich space tourists who can watch the unfolding events in their space hotels. But even they will have to come home and perhaps then they will realise what ‘only one Earth’ means. We have no other home in this universe, if it starts to crack up, everyone is affected. But as usual it is the poor, who have done the least to create the problem who will suffer the most. The rich will try to insulate themselves, but they are bound to fail. Storms will claim their luxury yachts, floods will invade their mansions, random climatic events don’t respect status.

But it is not just extreme weather that we will have to cope with at great cost. Food supply will be affected as drought take hold as in California and Australia now. Floods will make land unworkable as in southern England this winter. But also in a warming world, pests and diseases will spread into new territories, invading crops and herds that have no natural resistance. The so called ‘ecosystem services’ will start to break down as natural communities of plants and animals are affected by changing weather and seasonal patterns. These services include the control of soil erosion, of water run-off, recharging underground aquifers, regulating pest species, and moderating local weather patterns. All things that most people are totally unaware of – until the services are withdrawn, as in the great English floods of 2014. All things that are essential for the growing the food on which we all rich and poor, depend.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, science was sceptical about climate change. By the end the matter was settled, it was real and the effects measurable. That acceptance now has to move on to become the general consensus of all people. There is no time left for the antics of the deniers. The Greens have a programme that will enable us to reduce the impact of the inevitable change now built into the global climatic system as a result of decades of deliberate inaction. Our programme will also enable us to reverse those changes and bring the climate to the state to which modern humans, our crops and life-stock have become adapted. This programme will build a fair and humane society that lives within the natural structure of the Earth, leaving space for the multitude of life that makes up that structure. As a political party we have to convince people of both the practicality and urgency of this programme and counter the propaganda of those who seek to make personal capital out of the gathering climate disaster. These are the deniers, they have the power and wealth, defeating them will not be easy, but defeat them we must. The alternative, to condemn our children to live under their rule in a disintegrating world is unthinkable.