East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Peace and Goodwill to all Life?

candles in the dark

The East Midland’s Green Party Blog has been going for a year. This year, as last year, we take a seasonal look at how we can each make a difference. This month’s theme is ‘life-style’ and I wanted to include a look at a seasonal theme of peace and good will to all people (and all life).

There is the song called ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’, in which some pretty odd gifts are presented. The image of 12 marauding lords a-leaping uninvited around a home bought to my mind some of the inappropriate gifts this government has offered to us in the last 12 months. Each one has drastic effects on lives. Simply to name 12 ills the government has been party to or failed in its duty to protect us from, I would include homelessness increasing, child poverty increasing, increased domestic violence with decreased prosecution, increasing debt to pay national (bank) debts, the promise of more water and land pollution with fracking, climate chaos remaining unchallenged despite renewed warnings from government’s chief scientist, the escalation of school privatisation, the escalation of NHS privatisation, increasing fuel poverty and shortages, alienation and dehumanization of emerging communities, disabled people’s rights and ability to thrive taken away. You could add much more. So where is the hope? Look in the mirror, it is you!

Many of these ‘gifts’ were also given by the Labour government, such as privitisation of public services like schools and the NHS.  Edd Milliband forgot to mention the environment at all in his spring conference speech this year. So it is left to us to protect community values in the face of threats posed by reckless and ruthless policies. For many it is a season of festivity,  giving and tradition. When we consider what we wish to share with loved ones this season and beyond let’s look at alternative gifts and ways of giving.

As the first day of Advent arrived and as many prepare for Christmas I am in the midst of Channukah celebrations. I’m an Interfaith Women’s Worker and on Sunday members of the women’s group were at my home sharing cake and hope. Zahra, a Muslim from Gaza and I speak of being cousins, while our friend from Malawi sits by our side. This friend who has been active in our local community for 14 years, trained as a nurse, has done much church, interfaith and women’s empowerment voluntary work, while staying within the law and not doing paid work until she has permission to stay. She  recently spent two and a half months incarcerated in a detention centre without adequate medicine for her high blood pressure and under constant threat of deportation.  When she was let out on bail she was rushed into hospital to deal with the damage her detention and inadequate medicine caused. That was in this country, this year. Another woman around my kitchen table, originally from Ireland,  has told her stories of a persecuted childhood on these shores where shops and homes were closed to her. The original, now retired, matriarch of the group who gathered these women, sits on my right. Across cultures, faiths, generations and politics we speak of our hopes for peace between peoples and peaceful and equal relationships between men and women. The Green Party is the only party that does not use newcomers to our nation as scapegoats for economic uncertainty and almost every other social ill, though our membership diversity in terms of faith or ethnicity is limited so far.  Many call this the season of goodwill but I would ask if goodwill should need a season? It is a good place to start and stretch ourselves from.

Here is a puzzle. Peace and social justice are cornerstones of The Green Party. Peace is a universal concept talked of much, acted on less. While there are many things we would like to see reformed in the EU, one reason to stay is Peace. In the last few decades since the second War to End All Wars there have been armed conflicts all across the globe. We take it for granted that we would not go to war with Germany, with France and with other EU countries. We may like to believe history has taught us lessons, but the trade and political relationships built up by the EU are a great safeguard. It would be politically and economically self-defeating for an EU nation to declare war on another.

Here is a question and each one of us will have a different answer. What are the gifts we are going to offer the world in the upcoming year?  In the year to come I would like to see The Green Party stretch further to welcome a more diverse membership. There will be those who will be offended at the suggestion we have further to go to be inclusive.  I will risk that in the pursuit of a greater gift we could all share; that of a broader more effective party, building on the generations of sterling work given so far. Within the limits of finance and facilities we should open the party to a membership that reflects the inclusiveness of its policies. Religiously neutral and non-pub venues mean more Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and others  feel welcomed. Venues with good access for people with mobility problems would increase membership, active engagement and comfort. Social media, Skype and phone trees could help where this is not possible. Ensuring conferences do not fall on the major festivals of any one faith too many times, if ever, would ensure against bad feeling. Ensuring that any and all allegations of prejudice are dealt with speedily and justly, not with punishment but as a chance to build greater understanding, awareness and tolerance would build us up, together. We cannot afford complacency with regard to diversifying our membership and ensuring welcome is an absolute, not an adjustment of structure. Our practices must live up to the promise of our policies.  We cannot be naive and fail to see where there are barriers to inclusion or that, however unlikely or uncomfortable it seems, even Green Party members may occasionally need to build tolerance and understanding of different cultures and beliefs.  We are in this Earth Ship together and most, if not all, cultures, faiths and creeds have notions of social justice and the importance / sacredness of the earth at their core.  The time has passed when we can afford to accidentally (or purposefully) leave any one out. So, if this is a season of goodwill to all humanity and all life let us expand our borders of what is possible if we dared to think, to dream, we could all work together. Once we were called ‘People Party’. It is a massive ask but it may be only we could do it, let us try to live up to that.

Wishing you peace, joy and sustenance now and in the future. It is a gift that rests in all our hands, unwrapped when we give to one another.

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch


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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.