East Midlands Green Party Blog


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Greens share common grounds with farmers.

The Green Party recognises the fundamental importance of those who work on the land and the contribution that farming makes to the rural economy and to wider society. However, many farmers do not currently receive fair reward for the food that they produce or for the many other ‘public services’ that they provide. We believe that letting conventional market forces dictate agriculture policy, as successive governments have done, can’t lead to the sustainable supply of food that should be the principle aim of farming. The aim of Green food and farming policy is to achieve food security over the long term.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as follows: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. The FAO says further that: “The right to food is a human right. It protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.” The current policies of the British Government have failed to do this, hence the rise of hunger in the UK and of food banks. It is frankly shocking that in the worlds seventh richest economy, there are people who can’t get enough to eat on a regular basis, it is a scandal that the response by our rulers to this is to blame the hungry and poor for their plight.

The Government approach to food security is to build a competitive economy to enable the UK to buy its food requirements on the world market. The role of agriculture is to contribute to the national balance of payments to finance this policy – so farming is encouraged to intensify and to maximise output like any other industry. Further, the Government looks to developing countries to supply more of the world’s food. This policy, supported by Labour, Tory and LibDems, expects the poorer countries of the world to feed the rich. This a high risk unsustainable policy that is morally indefensible, like much of the rest of free market ideology.

It is unfortunate that the current leaders of the farming community in Britain buy into this ideology, supporting further intensification of agriculture to maximise output and return on investment. At the same time they do recognise the need to preserve soil fertility, and that farming needs a healthy and properly functioning natural environment. They recognise the dangers of climate change, after this winters floods how could they ignore it? They understand the importance of sustainability. They want to see farmers able to make a decent living in return for their hard work. Yet they fail to see that the free-market economics, focusing on competition and ever growing returns is leading to irreversible environmental damage that makes farming practice unsustainable and is forcing thousands of farmers out of business.

There is an unfortunate tension between the farming community and Greens. This is over issues like animal welfare, access to land, industrial scale farming and hunting. We both need to get beyond these differences and look at what we have in common. This is what the Wildlife Trusts are successfully doing in their negotiations with local farmers over conservation. They accept that at present they can’t agree on badgers or foxes or hedgerows. But they recognise a common interest in maintaining a healthy and properly functioning environment, and that they can and need to work together. Greens and the farming community need now to adopt the same approach.

Our areas of agreement are far more significant that areas of disagreement. We both agree on the need for a healthy and viable agriculture sector to produce our food, and that that farmers need to be able to earn a decent living. We accept the idea of agricultural subsidies from the taxpayer in recognition of the importance of maintaining food supply, and because agriculture can’t operate like a traditional business due to the variable nature of the environment. We both know that farming needs a healthy and properly functioning natural environment and that farmers are well placed to implement long term conservation policies that are in the national interest, and that farming practice needs to be sustainable over the long term. We both want to see farming enterprises being an integral part of a robust rural economy supporting good and sustainable jobs.

And we both agree that farming faces critical challenges from Climate Change and that it must adapt to survive.

This is a lot of common ground and Green Food and Agriculture policy, together with other policy areas, fully addresses these issues. We firmly believe that our policies, based on sound science, need to be implemented if we are to maintain a sustainable food production capacity in Great Britain. Yes, we have our differences with some farmers, on GMO, on cloning, on intensive farming, on the appropriate business model for a healthy farming sector. But rather than trade insults over disagreements, we need to understand each other’s position and find agreement. These are vitally important issues to get right. They are not a matter of opinion, they can be answered through the proper understanding of science, which includes ecology, the science in which this Party is grounded.

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Breathless – our right to breathe

Taken by Antonia Zenkevitch at The Blue Wave March against Climate Change.

Taken by Antonia Zenkevitch at The Blue Wave March against Climate Change.

Successive government policies are failing in safeguarding the rights of many to breathe. Fracking plans are part of a long line of health threats being created. The Green Party is different.

3 people a day die of asthma in the UK, 200 a day are rushed to emergency care. Although triggers are diverse, some of these deaths are warning signals that the air we breathe is not safe.  Exhaust fumes, for example, can trigger an attack that leaves the airways inflamed, constricted, obstructed, twisted.  Air pollutants, harsh chemicals in the home or work place and stress are some of the triggers, as are extremes of temperature.  Areas of the world where fracking is underway show rising  asthma and other health crisis. Texas, where drilling is heavy has a 25% asthma rate in young children compared to national average of 7%.  The government fracking plans could raise mortality rates in the UK. Asthma rates already rising with connections to climate change, air quality and poverty arguably triggers. Resistant virus strains and threats to basic well-being and immunity also factors.

You may ask how is this related to the Green Party? I would answer it is related in every way.  The Green Party policies are generally cleverly designed and focus on protecting the things that provide well-being.  A good public transport system, green industry and a safe and funded NHS for example are fundamental to general well-being. These are also things that could save lives and dignity.  The Green Party shows the way in these areas within the political arena. No other party does. Asthma rates are political because they spur us on to re-examine political priorities. The government on the other hand seems to be gaslighting – playing a game of smoke and mirrors. Under the new De-Regulation Bill the Con-Dem Government would remove any requirement for councils to produce assessments after designating air quality zones. As there are unsafe air zones it strikes me as vital that assessments should be made and protection put in place. The De-Regulation Bill is also designed to ‘remove burdens on business’ (to be ethical?) and ‘repeal legislation no longer of use’ (according to whose priorities?). This bill paves the way for fracking for example in a similar way to fracking being made exempt from The Clean Water Act in USA. It is one of the ways the Com-Dem government risks lives and Labour gives no opposition.

I am a wheezy Green. Ours is one of the one in five homes in the UK affected by asthma. A quarter of a million people have asthma so severe that medicine available does not work for them and even mild asthma can be fatal.  In 2011 alone asthma rates rose 12 %. Child asthma rates are rising most steeply (as is child poverty) with more young systems unable to deal with hazards in the air.  I have had a couple of nasty attacks recently, have pneumonia  and am trying to get my airways working properly. Many of us also contend with airborne, food and other allergies.   The body under duress sometimes mistakes friend for foe. As I work in the underfunded voluntary sector it cost me a large proportion of wages in prescriptions after my becoming ill just to make sure I can keep breathing. How many cannot afford to breathe?

The privatisation of our NHS by Labour, Conservatives and LibDems in successive governments also endangers lives. (It also takes jobs and so destablises society and the economy). It takes longer to be treated. We are inundated with consumer choice and lacking in patient care. A friend of mine from University days has worked some years in a hospital blood testing lab.  Her hours are long, her weekends rare, the staff were just 4 to one large hospital. She tells me a ‘Super Lab’ with the same number of people serving 4 hospitals is the new way of apparently ‘putting patients first’.  This for me illustrates the vampiric nature of commerce coming before care.  Even the term ‘superlab’ seems crass.

Social injustice costs lives. Of the deaths caused by asthma and many other diseases, rising healthcare costs and decreasing benefits to those who need them play their part. There is systematic dehumanisation of so many in and out of paid work who cannot afford to eat well or heat their homes. So many literally cannot afford the cost of living.  If you can’t afford to heat your home the cold air can be rejected by asthmatic lungs.  Fear or emotional trauma can also trigger an attack. With so many struggling to make ends meet in a prevailing political culture of divide and rule, this increases the health threats to many. Under extreme pressure many people are more likely to smoke more, less likely to look after themselves and more likely to put their own and other’s health at risk.  A struggling single parent said in Life’s A Drag: Women, Smoking and Disadvantage, Hilary Graham, 1993 “I smoke more if I’ve got bills coming in, I tend to get worried. Like Christmas is coming and I’m not able to afford the things I want.” Then there is the hunger for so many, with Foodbanks needed ever more.  Poverty and austerity – that poison masked as medicine – are killers.

Climate Chaos and poverty are closely related threats. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, includes in its research the effects of Climate Change on health threats rising and continuing to rise. Asthma is one disease on the rise, together with respiratory allergies, airborne diseases, heart-disease and stroke, cancer, foodborne and waterborne diseases, human development defects, neurological disorders, mental health and stress related ill-health, heat related morbidity and mortality … The list goes on. Our Governments answer is willful ignorance unchallenged by Labour. Plans for fracking, licences for dangerous pesticides, erosion of safety measures to protect clean air ‘zones’, new airport runways all carry threats. You do not have to look for the tsunamis, droughts and ash clouds to see climate change take life. It is there in the silence after a fatal asthma attack takes a child on a day you can taste pollution in the air. Behind closed doors, in homes, climate chaos costs lives. Those it often takes are those with problems accessing or affording care.

Our health security relies on a great number of things; saving the NHS, tackling true causes of poverty, protecting land and water, investing renewable energy and clean air targets. These are all things central to Green Party policy and for the most part fundamentally lacking in the other parties. I choose to focus this post on asthma because, if you pardon the pun, I had something to get off my chest and the issue is literally close to my own heart. It is one issue that shows how politics based on the common good can change lives.  The idiocy and arrogance of successive governments literally leaves millions breathless.   The Green Party is challenging itself and the UK to be the very best it can be. Now, that to me is a breath of fresh air! For me personally being ill was a reminder that fighting for The Green Party and its policies is in so many uncountable ways a fight for life.

Antonia Zenkevitch 2014

References and Further Reading include:

http://greenparty.org.uk/policies.html

http://www.catskillmountainkeeper.org/our-programs/fracking/whats-wrong-with-fracking-2/air-pollution

http://www.asthma.org.uk/knowledge-bank-smog

http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/about.htm 


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Food Banks…a Christmas Scandal.

Broadcast this widely:…during a debate in the House of Commons this week on food banks, members on the Conservative benches saw fit to laugh. They found it hugely amusing that 60,000 of their fellow citizens, including 20,000 children are facing the prospects of Christmas with out enough to eat. Such is the concern of the British Government for the people on who’s behalf it governs, Ministers chose not to contribute to this debate. Ian Duncan Smith, Minister for Work and Pensions, who is responsible for the Welfare Reforms, wore an inane grin as he heard that half a million people would be relying on food banks in this festive season, he then sneaked out of the Chamber leaving his deputy to answer any awkward questions. Not that she demonstrated any sense of seasonal good will. Speaking in response to the Opposition debate, Esther McVey claimed that it was a good thing that more people were turning to food banks. In an attempt to echo Cameron’s ‘we all in this together’ she said, ‘we’re all having to pay back this £1.5 trillion debt personally.’

Why is this Ms McVey? Can we just remind ourselves where this massive debt came from. The Office of National Statistics has calculated that the true cost of the bail out of the Banks adds up to £1.5 trillion. So the Banks sheer incompetence has landed us with the debt that McVey tells us we all have to pay off, by, if necessary going hungry. These incompetents are still taking £millions in bonuses, while we tighten our belts to pay for their stupidity. This, the richest business sector in the world, with some of the most highly paid executives have plunged us all in to debt and they collectively and personally are doing everything possible to shirk their responsibility. So it is left to the little people to pay up for their folly and greed, to go hungry so that they can enjoy Christmas with the very best of Champaign to celebrate another year of total rip off of the British people.

No wonder the Tory benches were laughing. They must find our gullibility at swallowing their lies about the state of the economy uproariously funny. For them, the economy is doing just fine.

What triggered this debate was an e-petition signed by 150,000 people, calling on Parliament to debate the rise in food banks. Petitioners got their debate, but all they got from this Coalition Government was smirks, laughter and walk-outs. There are now more than 400 food banks operating in the UK and serving nearly half a million people in 2013, a growth of 170% in 12 months. The Government is fully aware of this fact. DEFRA commissioned its own report, completed in the summer, but it has failed to publish it. Why? Because we suspect it might point the finger at Duncan Smith’s Welfare Reforms. No wonder he scurried from the Commons Chamber before questions could be asked.

The Government claims that there is no link between welfare reforms and the growth in food banks. They claim that food banks are popular simply because they offer free food – this is what LibDem Minister Lord Freud told the Lords when trying to explain away their existence in this, the seventh richest country in the world. Clearly this ennobled Minister, enjoying his £300 per day attendance allowance on top of his ministerial salary is unaware that the users of food banks have to be referred to them by an accredited agency and carry an authentication voucher. No Minister food banks do not offer free food on a drop in basis. If the report gave any substance to Freud’s claim, it most certainly would have been published by now and the results blazed across the pages of the Mail and Telegraph. But the report will not do this, it will show that food banks are a result of benefit delays and refusals, bedroom tax and personal debt, low wages and zero hours and the dreadful choice some have this winter between eating and keeping warm.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Green Manifesto shows how we can build a fair and sustainable economy. Poverty is not a fact of life, it is a political choice, Greens refuse to accept that choice. Austerity is a political choice that the Greens reject. Fairness and equality in opportunity benefits all in society and that is our direction. Million pound bonuses and hunger this Christmas are the result of decisions taken by Parliament. Work with us to oppose those decisions, work with us for the common good, together we can make hunger and despair a thing of Christmas past.


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A Light on Energy

No to Fracking

This month East Midlands Green Party are focusing on the theme of energy. When I started writing this post, the street to which I’ve just moved went into blackout twice in one night. We stumbled over boxes to light candles. Being greenies, we had solar lights and a windup torch. I later found out that on the 13th of October the BBC reported the risk of blackouts this winter is higher than at any time over the past six years, according to the National Grid. Sitting in the dark we discussed, (along with things like how great one of our neighbours is and if he needs candles), the probability of power outages becoming more frequent and the effects on homes, businesses and public services. We don’t know our other neighbours yet, or those who might have troubles. We do know that the price of basic fuel often exceeds our own budget, along with an increasing number of others. We are lucky enough to be in paid employment, though my paid hours are few. Yet I know we are going to be cold and that this will effect my own physical capacity to work and live well, together with affecting my mood. Being constantly cold is not regularly associated with well-being. It does not help that there are so many others in similar or worse situations.

Under the present  insane system the priority is the pursuit of (short-term) profit rather than the meeting of human need or long-term solutions to the energy crisis. With Fuel Poverty on the rise and the cold winter  coming, charities such as Age UK are warning of associated fatal illness bought on by the cold which can and does result in the death of tens of thousands each year. Flu, asthma , chest infections, strokes, depression are some of the killers in the cold affecting low income households, including struggling families, infants, the elderly and those with disabilities. It affects us all as a society and as individuals. Within my circle of family and friends are those at risk. I am personally a high risk of complications  in cold spells due to my own health.

There is inefficiency and greed within an energy system based on polluting, wasteful extraction of resources that are becoming ever more scarce, or those which leave life-killing, cancer causing radioactive waste. Fracking manages both to be wasteful and polluting, destroying land and water. It is also radioactve.  One report citing some of the compelling research on this was by Douglas Main on October 3rd, for NBC News USA, where fracking is already in operation. Geochemistry and Water Quality Proffessor Avner Vengosh of Duke University stated levels of radium in fracking wastewater let out into rivers in Pennsylvania were ‘higher than those found in some radioactive waste dumps, and exceed the minimum threshold the federal government uses to qualify a disposal site as a radioactive dump site’ and that this will get into the food system on every level. The report by Main can be found at http://www.nbcnews.com/science/fracking-wastewater-contaminated-likely-radioactive-8C11323012. There is no promise to meet the energy needs of our communities. The industry is heavily subsidised by us through tax but comes with no health or environmental security.  It is no accident that fracking is banned in France, which will protect public safety and environment. It is also no accident that it is exempt from the clean water act in the USA, which is the only way it could be pushed forward.

Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News, reported on August 13th this year that ‘researchers from the University of Texas in Arlington found increased levels of arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in the Barnett Shale, an area with around 16,000 active gas wells.’ A component in rat poison and famous in the classic film ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, arsenic is one of the worlds most effective and vile poisons. In fracking the outmoded, wasteful, centralised energy production industry has come up with something that is more deathly and desperate than anything we have so far seen. It leaves water undrinkable, carrying cancer causing and other poisonous chemicals and radioactivity.

Humanity has become dependent on wasteful, polluting, inefficient and heavily subsidised fuel instead of investing in renewables which are infinite , the relevant technologies are largely clean and increasingly efficient.  Green Party policy states the immediate objective: To promote full use of currently available renewable energy sources for heat, electricity and transport and provide the necessary support for the relevant markets and industries to grow. Meanwhile our Green Energy Policy also states the aim: To reduce demand for fossil fuels as rapidly as possible by inducing industry, householders and the public sector to invest in energy conservation. Under the present coalition, with no real opposition from Labour, subsidies of millions are going into £Billion Oil Companies while investment in renewables has been pulled. The Big Oil industry has limited accountability and little interest in communities becoming more self-sufficient through localised energy production.

The efficiency of renewables is increased with localised energy generation, open to community co-ownership. Green Party Policy has long-term aims for a Green Economy with energy generation focused on combined renewables locally.  Our policy states: Energy would be generated, stored and distributed as close to the point of use as practicable, with maximum local control. Our policy has at its core a commitment to make energy production ‘fully accountable to the public sector‘. The fossil fuel industry, which itself should be fossilised, works on nationalised, centralised power structures and is becoming increasingly unfit for purpose. Much fuel is needed in the transportation of fuel in these systems, meaning more pollution, less power.

Increasing fuel poverty and power outages (blackouts) and the health and safety implications are the tip of a large iceberg we are being taken towards by those with the blinkered arrogance to believe we are somehow unsinkable.  Jarred Diamond,  in  ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’ tracks the ancient societies that have fallen because humankind has misused, mismanaged and devalued water and soil and other natural, vital resources. He then links it to what we are doing in the post industrial ‘civilised’ world. Let’s not watch the titanic failure of inadequate energy policies destroy lives, futures, economies. The Green Party is the only political party in the UK with sustainable, workable energy policies.

There is something soulful in the scientific understanding that energy does not die, it chances to change. This is a holistic wisdom in the purest sense,  touching on the poetry of a ‘council of all beings’ and remaining true to both science of sustainable energy production and the lives and economies that rely on energy production being sustainable in every sense of the word.

I will end with this, the introduction to The Green Party’s comprehensive Energy Policy. To me, after the power cut, it is a light in the dark:

‘Our world is bathed in energy radiated from the sun, but is also provided with stocks of fossil fuels in which energy is locked up. Our economic development has taken us away from using sun, wind and water power to a technology dependent on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels represent natural capital. Industrialism has been committing the fundamental economic error of using capital as income. As E.F. Schumacher has pointed out, the wealth generated from the use of capital energy resources must be directed towards making ourselves independent of that type of resource.http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/en

Soundrack to changing energy policy:

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

Boys on the Balcony – Seize the Day

If you Tolerate this – Manic Street Preachers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4qledBpbig

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHqFqSkHBqc

http://www.thenation.com/blog/160166/top-ten-antinuclear-songs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkCFronBCqs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg2gAbb0NuE

by Antonia Zenkevitch for The Green Party


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Green Party says NO to Foston Factory Farm, Green Party says NO to all Factory Farms

The Green Party is opposing the planning application for the development of a mega Pig Factory Farm by Midlands Pig Producers. We also oppose any factory farm for several good reasons outlined below. This specific development would be placed in the pleasant rural village of Foston on Uttoxeter Road, South Derbyshire. The planning application involves a pig rearing unit together with anaerobic digestion facility and associated infrastructures. Midlands Pig Producer already have a factory farm in the area which holds around 5000 pigs. The Foston unit would hold 25000 pigs with 1000 pigs being slaughtered every week.

South Derbyshire DC has refused permission, the matter now lies with Derbyshire County Council who have called for more evidence on environmental impacts. If they refuse the matter will almost certainly go to appeal and be decided by the Ministry of Environment.

Foston residents have been campaigning against this massive development for some time now. The site is bordered by housing and a women’s prison, the natal unit of which is within 130 meters to the pig farm. I have spoken to some residents who have serious concerns about possible health implications, which I understand have not been fully assessed. It is unclear what Midlands Pig Producers would do in the event of an outbreak of disease for example Food and Mouth. Residents fear that the pig unit and possible neighbouring houses and the prison might have to be quarantined and movement in the village strictly limited.

Furthermore local residents understandably do not wish to live next to a big industrial unit, with its associated noise, smell and traffic movements. Although the developers claim that they will filter off 90% of the noise and smells; residents fear that the remaining noise and smells from 25,000 pigs will have a serious impact on their lives.

Another really important point is the risk of flooding. This area is prone to flooding. The actual flood-line is very close to the development; and flooding increases the risk of water contamination. The Environment Agency has objected to the plan on the basis that the risks to groundwater contamination can not be properly managed.

The development will cause a significant increase in traffic movements and noise in an area that lacks the infrastructure to properly absorb these impacts. The proposal is therefore contrary to established planning guidelines for developments in rural areas. Furthermore, the access road to and from the site is not appropriate for heavy industrial and agricultural traffic.

The Green Party promotes a sustainable approach to food production and these mega units, reliant on cheap oil and animal feed are not sustainable, which is why we oppose not only the Foston piggery but also all factory farms. We believe that the land used to grow the animal feed should be used to grow food for human consumption. Producing meat means that these animals have to be fed. Land used to grow the animal food is taken from the area used to grow human food. More intensive units means less land for human food. The calorie needs of a growing pig is about double that of a human child under 10 and 50% higher than an active adult. So the food going to this pig unit could feed 50,000 children.

I feel strongly about animal welfare, since animals are able to experience many of the same feeling as humans do. Any human with some sense of empathy can sense that animals can feel fear, pain and discomfort, they also feel stress when separated from their young. Keeping pigs or any other animals in cages for all of their lives, without natural light, without the chance to be part of their social structures – is cruel. I understand that Midlands Pig Producers claim that they will keep to the RSPCA code of welfare for farmed animals. In my opinion these standards are inadequate for these intelligent and social animals.

Another major concern is the use of antibiotics. In large factory farms animals are kept in unnatural and confined environments, the outbreak and spread of diseases is, therefore a serious risk. In order to prevent this, animals are usually kept on low doses of antibiotics. 27% of all antibiotics are used in pig farming here in the UK. Experts are increasingly warning that bacteria are getting resistant to these antibiotics, which are the same as the ones used in human medicine. We rely on antibiotics heavily; without effective antibiotics normal operations and common illness can become lethal. Risking losing the service of valuable antibiotics through overuse as in factory farms is irresponsible.

As mentioned above, the Green Party says that we have to address sustainability in food production. These factory farms use a lot of energy and have a high carbon footprint. Since we are facing a major environmental crisis, we need to reduce energy usage and carbon omission. The UN has published information that states that the meat and diary industry produces 18% of green house gases globally; however other studies imply an even higher contribution.

These factory units will further harm small and medium sized farmers. Farmers cannot compete with the low prices that these mega units can achieve at the present time. This unit would have around 18 employees working in the factory; if the pigs were traditionally farmed, far more people would be employed and earning a living from this. Do we really want our British farming to become an industrial production line? Do we really want our landscape to be filled with industrial units? Or do we want to see traditional farms with grazing animals in the fields?

Having looked at this Foston development I could not find a single reason that I thought was persuasive in its favour. Local residents, traditional farmers, the pigs, the consumers’ health, our environment all would have to pay a price so that a handful of people could get rich. That is simply not a good reason to allow mega factory farms.


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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.