A Long Week in Politics – A Personal View.

They say that a week is a long time in politics. This last week has surely proved the saying true. Who could have predicted the roller-coaster ride we’ve been on since we cast our votes last week?

One of the things that has emerged throughout the referendum campaign, and since, is that many of the British people don’t understand debate and reasoned argument. Once their stance has been decided, whether through emotion, anger, or some other reason, they will metaphorically stick their fingers in their ears, to save having to listen to the alternative arguments, then shout very loudly so that no one around them can hear those opinions or facts they have rejected. If all else fails, they resort to shouting insults and abuse at anyone who doesn’t agree with them, because they have to be in the right. Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes this approach isn’t just applicable to the general public, some of our politicians are seen to use it, too.

As a writer, I have found it intriguing to watch the responses of the authority figures as the dealt with the result the British people delivered. The EU officials, steely-eyed, challenging ‘well come on then, get it over with’, as though they couldn’t wait to be rid of us. Angela Merkel, looking very weary and worried. The Conservative politicians, who were largely responsible, suddenly very quiet and, after David Cameron announced his resignation, suddenly it seemed that no one wanted to take the next step, no one wanted to go down in history as the person who led Britain out of the European Union. And of course we discovered that no one had a plan. They hadn’t expected to need one. Of course there are some politicians who are ever happy to talk a lot, and were only too happy to fill the void: Nigel Farage, crowing, gloating, even though he’s about to lose his job; Nicola Sturgeon, furious, determined, trying once again to tell Westminster now to do their jobs and threatening action from Scotland if they don’t do as she says; Alex Salmond, back from obscurity to add his comments. But where was George Osborne? It almost turned into a ‘where’s wally’ competition to find the most obscure suggestion of where George was hiding.

And what of our loyal opposition? At a time when the country is gripped by its worst political crisis for many years, they decide the way to deal with it is…to stage a coup, split their party, and try to oust their leader! What planet do they live on?

The rest of the world has watched in astonishment as, in one short week, this once Great Britain has torn itself apart in a tide of in-fighting, xenophobia and, at times, outright racism.

So where does the blame lie?

Obviously, it was David Cameron who set up the referendum to try and settle the divisions in his own party. He was clearly confident that the British people would see the benefits of being part of the EU and support him in laying the argument to rest – after all, they had returned him and his party to power only last year (albeit with a slim majority), when he hadn’t expected to win. Unfortunately, he misread this support. It now seems clear that a substantial number of people only voted Conservative because he had promised a referendum on membership of the EU and because they wanted a chance to escape its clutches. Why? For years the media – particularly the newspapers, have blamed the EU and its regulations for everything they felt was wrong with the country. They have exaggerated the problems way out of proportion and whipped up public opinion to almost hysteria in recent weeks. (It seems that some of the strongest myths about the EU – for example the straight banana story – were, in fact begun by none other than Boris Johnson, when he was working as a journalist, years ago.)

When the date of the referendum was first announced, the Leave campaign was very quick off the mark to try and influence the public and spread their opinions and scare stories, so that by the time the Remain side began to try and counter these stories, it was already too late – a large proportion of the population were no longer prepared to listen to what they saw as excuses. Added to which, every time anyone spoke in public in favour of Remain and present an outline of what might be the consequences of leaving they were shouted down and accused of scaremongering, by the side who had been scaremongering all along!

All through the campaign members of the public asked and almost begged for more facts on which to base their decisions. In the last few weeks there were TV programmes which tried to present some of the facts and possible consequences, but by now many people had switched off mentally from any discussion on the referendum, fed up with hearing all the hype and emotive rants. There were also informative article in some of the more serious newspapers, and online, but most of these seem to have been by-passed by the bulk of the population. It was all too little too late.

Another thing that has emerged through this exercise is the continuing influence of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and particularly her view that there was ‘no such thing as society’ it was ‘every man for himself’.  (This apparently worked so well that much later when David Cameron spoke of the ‘Big Society’ no one knew what he was talking about.) In interviews on how they were making/ had made their decision on how to vote, most people spoke of how it would affect them personally, or at most their children/grandchildren. Some spoke of not being able to get doctor’s appointments, or places in schools, but it was still very personal. Very few people seemed to be looking at the bigger picture, of how it would affect us all as a society – because most seem to have forgotten, or in the case of younger people, never learned what ‘society’ is – and that is Thatcher’s legacy.

The current turmoil in the Labour Party also ties in with this theory. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) politicians who have rebelled, appear to be largely career politicians who believe that their jobs and opinions are more important than those of the public they were elected to represent. They claim the party cannot win an election with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, when in actual fact, the reverse is more likely true. They totally ignore the thousands of people who not only joined the Labour Party to vote Corbyn into the leadership, but also all who have joined (or re-joined) since and all the crowd who gathered outside parliament in his support at the very time they were telling him they had no confidence in him. Who do they think is going to vote for them? They have exposed themselves as being self-seeking and out of touch with public opinion just as much as the Tories, more anxious to preserve their cosy way of life than represent the public as they were elected tp do. They need to be taught a brutal lesson.

Of course we all know the real reason for this attempted coup. We’ve known it was coming for months. It is an attempt to control and cover up some of the findings in the imminent publication of the Chilcot Report on the Iraq war. Many of the coup’s leaders are likely to be implicated in this report. They also want to avoid action being taken against their leader at the time, Tony Blair, who stands to be the most damned by the report. Well, I’m afraid that if it is found that Tony Blair committed crimes, he should pay the price, just the same as anyone else would. And that goes for any other politician who commits crimes, too. No one is above the law.

The British public have shown they are tired of corruption, cover-ups and dishonest career politicians, whether that be connected to the EU, phone-hacking, expenses scandals, alleged paedophilia rings, or covering up illegal wars. They want a different kind of politics. More honest, serious, sober, caring, concentrating on getting the job done rather than playing to the media. In the last few years television coverage has allowed us to see inside the parliaments of several other countries as they dealt with problems. Nowhere else appears to engage in the showmanship, yah-boo, schoolboy-style jibing and hollering of the House of Commons. In the 21st century it is an irrelevant anachronism. Why is it allowed to continue? Politicians who have grown used to dealing in this way clearly don’t understand that Jeremy Corby represents a different kind of politics, and a form of politics that the public is crying out for. The politics of honest debate, sober discussions, and above all a politics that cares about and looks after the weakest in our society.

The Conservatives came to power promising to ‘fix broken Britain’, instead, they have caused the deepest divisions in our society in living memory. This in turn has caused frustrated pockets of communities to seek someone to blame, attacking the disabled, foreign worker, and anyone else who looks different and so might be a threat to them. Many people living at the lower levels of society are now terrified of the future, of how they are to find the basics of life, how they are to survive. To these people, Jeremy Corbyn is a beacon of hope – the only beacon of hope in what has become a frightening and uncertain future.

However, there is also one good thing that has emerged during this last week. It is the growing re-discovery of people-power. Some have realised for the first time that their vote does count for something, others are discovering that that there is a way to show self-centred politicians what they think of them and their opinions and perhaps though this they are beginning to rediscover that such a thing as ‘Society’ does exist after all.

It looks like we’re going to need a more caring society to survive in a post-EU Britain.

 

Who Is A Pensioner and How Should We Treat Them?

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 License: CC 3.0 Attribution/BYCG

 This year there have been several incidents among my family and friends which, taken together, have caused me to be more observant and more thoughtful about how the elderly are treated, the attitudes towards them and the perceptions of what they are able to do and what is appropriate ‘at their age.’

In the last twenty or so years there has been a big general shift in the way the elderly are treated – mostly because of the need to adjust as a country to deal with the increasing numbers of elderly people.  The move towards keeping the elderly in their own homes for as long as possible is much better for them, but there is also less social stigma attached to families placing an elderly relation in a care home – or indeed the elderly themselves declining to go into a home to be looked after, if they prefer (and can afford to pay). However, the system is still developing and does not move smoothly in all areas at all times – as the many scandals still being uncovered, testify.

Misconceptions

Although most of the situations I have witnessed are on the charitable side towards the elderly, there have also been occasions where people have been unhelpful or appeared vaguely frightened about contact with an elderly person. There have also been some misconceptions:

Wheeled walking aid = likely dementia sufferer.

The evidence of a ‘wheely walker,’ as we call them in our family, means simply that the person has some balance problems, and the walker is to stop them falling over when out and about. They are usually perfectly sound of mind, especially if out on their own, and these walkers may be needed at any age – not just pensioners. Sufferers of certain illnesses and conditions such as MS may need a walking stick or wheely walker to help with balance, and MS is usually discovered when the person is only in their thirties. There may also be cases where someone needs temporary help while recovering from surgery and ‘finding their feet’ again.So we shouldn’t make snap judgements

People in their eighties should be content to stay at home at night.

An elderly lady I know, after a significant time in hospital followed by a spell of recuperation in a care home returned home to pick up her life. As she lives alone, carers were assigned to go and help twice a day. However, she was greeted with some astonishment when she asked to cancel the evening carer once a fortnight so she could go out and meet a group of friends in a nearby town. The assumption was that at her age she shouldn’t want to go out at night. But why not?

She books a taxi to transport her from door to door and because she has used the same company for several years, she and the driver tend to ‘set the world to rights’ in discussion as they travel. The small group she meets is fairly mixed in age range and their discussions exercise her mind. Sometimes she is also given something to think about at home afterwards. The staff at the venue also know her and chat to her. All in all she finds a lot of mental stimulation from attending, which keeps her topped up until the next time. In the winter, this is often the only time she leaves the house and so she really looks forward to it.

Grey hair = bus pass user.

This one is common among bus drivers, and to be fair, perhaps they are only playing safe. Perhaps it is also many people these days choose to dye their hair to cover up the grey, but it’s not everyone that can afford to do so in these difficult times, and some prefer to age naturally by letting the grey appear as it will. There is no defined age when hair turns grey, it can actually happen at any time of life, and so it could be taken as an insult to be taken for a pensioner when you are nowhere near pension age. As the retirement age is pushed back, for everyone to work longer, this is likely to happen more and more. Increasing numbers of ‘working age’ people will have grey hair long before they can claim their pensions.

Care and Institutionalisation

We are all familiar with the old image of care homes. Elderly people sitting in a circle of easy chairs nodding off in boredom. Fortunately, most care homes are no longer like that, and some go to great lengths to provide mental stimulation and varied activities for those well enough to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, there are still some homes where the elderly are left sitting alone in their room all day, with nothing to do, which is even worse than sitting together in a communal room with nothing to do.

There is also a problem of lack of mental stimulation in hospitals, among the elderly. Now we all know that the NHS is always short of money and the staff are overstretched, but mental health and physical health are not totally detached from each other. If an elderly person is left sitting in a chair, staring into space, hour after hour, day after day, even the most strong-willed person could lose the drive and will-power necessary to fight their illness.

A younger person would be far less likely to be treated like this, so why do we expect it of the elderly? Just because they look frail doesn’t mean their minds cannot be still sharp and very active. This is how patients become institutionalised. It may make them easier for staff to handle, but it’s not good for their well-being, or their recovery.

When an elderly person goes home after a prolonged stay in hospital carers are often sent to help for at least a few weeks to make sure they can cope. The job of the short-term care team is to help and encourage the person to do things for themselves and make the necessary adjustments to take back control of their lives. If it is then felt that the person still needs help on a daily basis, a long-term care team is assigned to go in and do whatever is necessary, for an allotted time, for up to four times a day, although most only need help twice a day. If the difficulty is borderline, the elderly person can begin to feel they have to wait for the carer and give up trying to do things for themselves.

Finding a Balance

The carers I have met have been pleasant and generally efficient at their work, but some of the elderly are very independent and not ready to admit they need help, they can feel resentment at the ‘intrusion’ into their homes and their lives. Finding the balance between helping a person remain independent for as long as possible and taking their independence away can be a very fine line.

As a society, we need to think hard about who we judge to be ‘old’ and not write people off too early. Grey hair doesn’t mean a person is incapable of working efficiently. But we also need to continue developing the care system for the genuinely elderly with their needs at the centre – and be prepared to listen to their comments and complaints. Don’t brush them aside just because they are old and infirm, be prepared to help them continue to do as much as they can for as long as they can. After all, it’s their life and we will be in their situation one day. Think carefully about how you would want to be treated at their age.

What do you think?

Why Work Doesn’t Pay / Too Poor to Get a Job

Jobcentre - Berwick

There has recently been a lot of talk about making work pay but most of the speakers and indeed the media reporters seem to miss the biggest reason why work doesn’t pay.

When someone is working part-time and claiming benefits to top up their income they are only allowed to keep £5 of their earnings before the benefits are withdrawn pound for pound. To my knowledge, this amount has not changed since at least 1983 and probably much earlier. Presumably this was originally intended to cover their travel costs to and from work, but 1983 was 30 YEARS AGO. How much have bus fares risen in the last 30 years?

This now means they are not even allowed to work one hour at minimum wage before their benefit is clawed back, yet they are expected to be prepared to travel for up to an hour and a half for work. The costs of travelling such a distance could take most of their wages, let alone the pittance they are allowed to gain, and leave them well out of pocket.

I can understand that as travel costs are variable they are seen as the responsibility of the employee, but come on, why would anyone in their right minds take a job that will leave them drastically worse off due to transport costs?

George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith & Co. in their ivory towers don’t seem to realise that it costs money – and often quite a big percentage of benefit money to travel to a job – as they swan around in their cars. Perhaps they think we lesser mortals can sprout wings and fly to our places of work.

Unless and until the issue of transport costs is taken into consideration alongside benefit withdrawal rates it is never going to pay to work part-time, yet at the moment part-time is all many people can find. This can sometimes be a stepping stone to full-time work, depending on the company, but not if you can’t afford to start work in the first place!

Why are there so many part-time jobs?

Of course there are all sorts of explanations for part-time work being offered, keeping costs down, targeting the work force numbers to the busy times, etc. However, there is also a new excuse. Since the employers share of pension contributions for their employees has risen and become compulsory for certain levels of work, it has become more cost effective to businesses to cut all hours to part-time, below the thresh-hold where they have to pay the compulsory contributions. Two part-timers may now be working the hours that used to be one full-time post, but the employer avoids paying the pension contribution.

This isn’t helping employees build up their pension-pot but many employers don’t care about that, as long as they keep their costs down. With the current government threatening to sanction part-time workers for not working enough hours, once again the workers are being penalised for the actions of their bosses.

See also: Has Capitalism Gone Too Far?

Too Poor to Get a Job?

Cutbacks have consequences – especially for the poor. Is this present government, in its relentless attack on the poorest in society, shooting itself in the foot when it comes to the stated aim of trying to get people back to work?

If someone has been out of work for a long time and dependent on benefits they are less likely to be able to afford:

  • Suitable clothes for the working environment
  • Regular haircuts
  • Suitable footwear for work
  • Travel costs
  • All sorts of extra expenses connected with working

Work would also leave them much less time for making the economies that may still be needed in low-wage Britain.

If the unemployed/ under-employed are too poor to be able to present themselves properly at interview, they are unlikely to be offered the job in many instances – especially if it is a customer-facing job.

If the person concerned is in receipt of jobseekers allowance, they may be given enough money to enable them to travel to interview, (or at least that used to be the case, if it hasn’t been another victim of the cuts) but if they are offered a job at a distance from home, how doe they pay for their travel costs until their first monthly pay? In some cases, I have known the first pay packet to be simply a token amount and there was a wait of seven weeks before the first full pay was received. How is anyone supposed to survive that long?

Still penalised for working

Part of the government’s thinking on Universal Credit (UC) was that being paid monthly would supposedly make the transition between unemployment and work easier, but if that monthly UC payment is not enough to cover the travel expenses as well as everything else, people will fall behind with other bills, because they are taking a job.

 The more the income of the poor is reduced, the less the chances they will be able to obtain or keep a job.  If the government goes ahead and sanctions part-time workers for not working enough hours, even through their housing benefit, they may find some people will be too poor to attend their work, as the natural inclination may be to shift money around to keep a roof over their heads, which may in turn leave no money for travel to work. If they go without food to find the fares, they may not be in a fit state to work – especially if they operate machinery or drive as part of their job.

If the most of the country – including many children – can see the problems that are likely to occur with the proposed plans, why can these idiots in government not recognise them?

At one time Iain Duncan Smith talked about allowing benefit claimants to be able to keep more of their benefits – up to 35 per cent. That made sense to many people who have been there in that situation. However, this has not been mentioned for quite some time. It seems that George Osborne has not only over-ruled Iain Duncan Smith on certain points (or so it is rumoured) but has virtually taken over his job. Is it just me, or is the expression on George’s face, when he makes these announcements about cuts and sanctions, becoming increasingly fanatical?

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, when in office, were always very cautious about the possibility of creating an underclass in our society that might rise up and cause trouble. The current government seem to have made it their number one priority to turn all the lower classes into starving peasants and slaves, grovelling for food and shelter.

No wonder they want to take us out of the jurisdiction of the European Human Rights Act. They clearly don’t believe the poor deserve any human rights. Voters beware! (And don’t trust UKIP either, as they are even further to the right than this shower.)

What do you think?

Does Anyone Respect Intellectual Copyright These Days?

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Some years ago, a writer friend of mine entered a short story competition run by a publisher of children’s books. The story she submitted had previously been sent to a radio station which was, at that time, regularly reading short stories on air, but this didn’t appear to clash with the competition rules. Her story didn’t win anything in the competition.

Not very long afterwards there was a children’s book published with a VERY similar storyline and (surprise, surprise,) the publisher was none other but the one who had run the competition. The characters had been altered just enough to make a difference and the credit was all given to the well-connected illustrator, who had also produced a suitable story about how he had come up with the idea. That book has since sold millions of copies, world-wide. Was it really just a coincidence?

My friend has no children of her own, she was unaware of the book until another friend told her (and I was present on that occasion). Her own records show she sent the story to the radio station several years before the book was published, and so I am convinced that the original story was hers. The publisher clearly had the opportunity to read her work before the book was published. Unfortunately my friend was not in a financial position to challenge the copyright.

Incidents like this make you wonder, how many other times this has happened with writing competitions? How many publishers exploit competitions and writers this way?

I’m afraid the incident put me off entering competitions, especially when I heard that several years later my friend had another idea stolen by entering a competition. This time the organisers were a respected writer’s organisation and she had been planning to attend their conference, where the stories were to be judged. Unfortunately, she fell ill and had to cancel her trip. Some time later, she discovered that someone in the admin staff of the organisation had apparently submitted her story under their own name and won awards for it.

There have been several high-profile copyright cases over the years, not only in writing, but also in music. The trouble is that it is very difficult for a small-time writer or musician to fight a copyright case through the courts, even if they dare risk the financial implications, and so some unscrupulous people take advantage of this situation. Some claim there is no copyright on ideas, but the difference between an idea and a piece of intellectual work can be a fine line.

The problem is not just confined to competitions either. Submissions to magazines and newspapers are also easily exploited. I too, have had the experience of a carefully-crafted piece of writing published under someone else’s name. I complained, and had a correction and apology printed in the following issue, but these are always small and not easy to spot. The damage has already been done – and the results linger for all time in archives, with the retraction easily missed.

Now we have the age of the internet, copyright theft is rife. It is so easy to cut and paste. If this is only for personal use/ study purposes, authors might not mind, but if someone is republishing the work, virtually untouched, under their own name, that is a different matter.

Photographs and images are just as much, if not more vulnerable on the web. Not everyone bothers to check if the picture they want to use is royalty-free, or has a creative commons licence. They just post whatever they want to post.

And then there is the whole music download argument that has rumbled on for many years…

Today’s young people have grown up with the internet, with such a wide range of content being so freely available with a few clicks of the mouse. They take it all fro granted and many don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to download/ share anything they want – for free. If they are asked to pay, they expect the charge to be a pittance – a token amount. After all, it’s out there on the internet, why should they pay to save it? What difference between that and other content given away for free?

The problem lies in what they don’t see. Behind all these items there are wordsmiths, researcher, artists, musicians, photographers, etc., working hard to produce the content, which can take many hours to create and seconds to be stolen. Yes, stolen. Copyright theft is just like any other kind of theft. Many of the people who produce this kind of work are depending on it for at least part of their living expenses. When it is stolen they are not paid.

If creative people cannot be paid for their work, they will either take it somewhere else, where they will be paid, or else they will stop producing it. The quality of new material would then gradually deteriorate. After all, why put time and effort into something if there’s no reward at the end?

Those who expect to be able to download anything for free from the internet, should ask themselves how they would feel if they were suddenly expected to carry on doing their own job without a wage at the end of the month. It’s the same thing, only creative people often don’t have the luxury of monthly pay.

Why is there such disrespect for intellectual property in this day and age? How much of it is because of the development of the internet – and information overload?

Perhaps the world-wide-web has made creative content seem more ethereal, so that consumers are less able to judge its worth because it’s no longer tangible. When music was sold on records or discs or tapes, when writing was in books and artwork hung on walls, they were tangible products and their value was, perhaps, more easily assessed. How come these same products are now worth so much less when published in a different way? The value is not only in the physical production costs, intellectual time is also a valid production cost.

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Publishers who take the work of an unknown author and publish a version as someone else’s work could be shooting themselves in the foot. If a person’s work is good enough to publish, it is good enough to publish under their own name. If they can come up with a good story once, maybe they could do it again and again, like my friend, and if given a contract, could earn the publisher more money over time. Instead, any further ideas may be kept from public view – even eventually destroyed – because someone treated the author and their work with contempt.

Writers who deliberately steal from other writers are not really writers at all.

What do you think?

Has Capitalism Gone Too Far?

ImageWhen the poorest in our society can no longer afford to heat their homes, while energy companies make large profits…

When big businesses seize all opportunities and charge high prices to consumers, in order to make money for shareholders…

When even politicians are so worried about upsetting multinational companies that they fail to take the action needed to protect the lives of their constituents…

Has capitalism gone too far?

Economy out of balance

House prices are beginning to boom again – at least in the south – which means more southerners are likely to look further north for ‘bargains’ and the wave will begin to sweep across the country again, putting properties even further out of the income-reach of many northerners.

Since privatisation energy prices have soared, and continue to rise each year as soon as the cold weather begins, leaving more and more of the poorest people shivering and frightened to turn on their heating – risking hypothermia.

High energy costs, together with other overheads mean food prices have continued to rise dramatically throughout the economic crisis of the last few years.

The cost of petrol/ diesel, which goes up fast but never drops back to the same level, affects everything that needs to be delivered to shops, and businesses that need to travel to their customers.

At the same time, government policies limit income and there are far more people either unemployed or underemployed. Household incomes have plummeted for many families over the same period as prices have rapidly increased.

The politicians of the Labour Party like to take about the ‘squeezed middle,’ but what about those at the bottom? Who represents the working class, and those who cannot even find work, these days? And for how many people was the bedroom tax the last straw?

Take this all together and add in tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor and it is clear that there is something going drastically wrong with the economic balance in our society.

The economic indicators all show the gap between rich and poor is wider that it has been for well over a hundred years, and the north-south divide is also widening. We are supposed to be an advanced, civilised society, so why is this being allowed to happen?

Wages

Minimum wage was supposed to stop employers from paying slave wages and give employees a decent income, with which to pay their household bills, etc. But it doesn’t seem to have kept up with the cost of living, and as usual, big business felt they had to find a way around the increase in their wage bill, this time they found it by adopting zero-hours contracts.

When working tax credit was introduced to top up low wages, big business simply paid the majority of their wages minimum wage, knowing it would be topped up by the state where necessary.

The introduction of flexible working was supposed to allow employees to work around family commitments, transport problems, etc. Instead, employers use it to try and keep their employees at their beck and call, to phone them at short notice and expect them to abandon all other responsibilities and jump to their ‘master’s’ voice.

Whenever a move is made to protect/ improve the lives of workers and give them a better work/ life balance, many employers seem hell-bent on twisting the legislation and turning it back on the employees in ways that actually make their lives worse.

Big business is so keen to profit, but many of them are also keen to avoid paying tax.

Energy

There are ways of cutting energy costs to homes, but at present only those with spare money, or access to borrow, can afford to take advantage of these ways, whether it be soar panels, a small wind generator in the garden, heat-exchangers, passive homes.

What kind of society are we that those with money have access to cheaper energy – and can even be paid for producing it – while the poorest pay the higher prices on ever-decreasing incomes?

When wind-power was first developed, I remember reading about a man in Scotland who had produced a small wind-power generator which could be fixed to a rooftop, similar to a TV aerial. He envisaged that we could all have one of these on our houses and generate at least part of our own electricity, to bring down costs. He couldn’t find anyone to back him to go into full production. Why? Because big business was already seeing pound signs in the development of the technology. They began to push to build swathes of the biggest possible ‘windmills’ to make profits for their shareholders and the still become angry and upset when campaign groups fight them over these plans. Surely, a small windmill on every rooftop would be less obtrusive? But of course, big business cannot allow the little man and woman to deny them profit.

Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System

Food

What kind of society are we, when even working people are having to resort to using food banks to enable them to eat? How many more are going hungry rather than be seen to be so desperate? (And how many more are simply getting deeper and deeper into debt rather than use this last resort?) It’s obvious, if people can’t eat properly, they can’t work properly. They can’t function to solve the problems that are daily being thrust upon them. They become run down, exhausted, malnourished, ill. What kind of workforce will they be then?

Health

The more pressure that is put onto the already overstretched poor to pay higher prices/ find non-existent jobs, etc., the more their health is likely to suffer – especially in the long-term. Hypothermia, malnutrition, stress-related illnesses or even worse. This is turn, puts more pressure on the already over-burdened NHS – another national institution threatened with creeping privatisation. It could even be argued that big business, with its determination for power, and greed for more and more profits for shareholders, is gradually killing our citizens!

Even those who work for these businesses are not exempt, as employees are driven by ever-increasing targets – pressure again.

Time for debate

What’s the alternative? I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, but perhaps it’s time we all began to think about what kind of society we want to live in, in the future and come up with a new theory.

The runaway train of big business seems to be travelling faster and faster – is it out of control? How do we stop it, or at least slow it down? Is it going to take a big disaster?

Before the gap between rich and poor, south and north widens any further, it’s time we began to debate how to stop the trend and make society fairer to those at the bottom. They are running, like hamsters on a wheel, faster and faster, but still slipping further and further behind, in and effort to simply survive. Otherwise we may be returning to a time when the poor are forced to live on the streets – or in self-built shanty towns, and beg for handouts from passers-by.

A home, heat, food, health, are all basic human rights. European legislation is in place to protect us from extremes at the moment, but the Conservatives want to opt out of it. Those considering voting for UKIP should also be aware of this. I’m no great fan of the European Union, but without support from them a ruthless right-wing government coupled with big business could quite easily push us back into something like a feudal society. All in the name of profit.

What do you think?

Who Dares Wake the Sleeping Grey Monster?

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Pensioners deserve dignity in old age – even the ones with no occupational pension. The elderly paid into the National Insurance scheme all their working lives – or had good reason for being out of work.

For men, good reason was often illness or redundancy. When industries were closed down and large numbers were suddenly out of work, their workless state was not of their own making. They should not be punished in old age.

For women, working lives were very different in the past. Today’s female pensioners were usually expected to give up work when they had a family and concentrate all their efforts on looking after their husband and children, while their husband brought in the money to keep them all. If they worked at all after marriage, it was likely to be a little part-time job that paid a pittance. In those days the gap between the pay of men and women was wide, because the men were seen as the breadwinners and the women were supposedly only working for ‘pin money.’

Men

When the traditional industries of the north were deliberately closed down by the government policies of the 1980s, whole communities of men, sometimes several generations of the same families, were thrown on the scrap-heap. More concerned by the threat to their own reputations than the ruined lives they had caused, the government then encouraged the older and less able workers to be moved onto incapacity benefit, so that they would not be counted as unemployed. They were then left to rot.

Now the current government want people off incapacity benefit and back into work so that they can benefit from the extra taxes, but employers don’t want older workers – especially if they are long-term unemployed.

These were the men who fought hard for their jobs, through the unions. But Margaret Thatcher was determined to over-rule them and destroy their unions, their industries and in doing so, she also broke their families, their communities, their ability to earn a living and often their health.

It was a Conservative government that threw them on the scrap heap, now another, largely Conservative government suddenly wants them working again to boost the economy. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work quite like that.

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Women

The women who are crossing the new pension age around now – and many of those who will reach it in the next few years are the very women who fought for equal employment rights and equal pay for women in the 1970s and 1980s. They had to fight for the right to earn a living in a society that still saw women as second-class citizens, not capable of doing the same work as men – despite the fact that their mothers and grandmothers proved their capability during two world wars, while the men were away fighting for king and country.

There is a tendency, nowadays, for people to believe that women have always had all the opportunities and full time work they have now – and especially the child-care provisions. Those who think this way often look down on older women who have not led similar lives, as though they were too lazy to shift themselves to find work/ child-care in their younger days. They didn’t try hard enough/ took the easy way out, and so it’s their own fault they have no money in their older years.

This view is ignorant of the facts and short-sighted. The women they are looking down on could be the very women who helped to win the right to access to better work, and forced the employers and politicians to reconsider the problems of childcare, to enable more women to work.

In the 1970s, and for much of the 1980s, child-care places were like gold – especially in more rural areas of the country, and even if a place could be found, the wages paid to a woman may not have covered the cost. There were no government vouchers then. These women often had no choice but to stay at home unless they had family members who could take care of the children. Even when the children were at school, there was still the problem of before and after school hours – and a major barrier to work was school holidays. Jobs were not tailored to school hours, as many have become since, and there was no flexibility. If you wanted to work, you worked the hours set by the employer. There were also no breakfast clubs and after school activities were mainly sports practises.

Even when the change began in the 1980s, it happened much more slowly in many parts of the country – too late for many of the women who had fought for it.

Women now in their late fifties/early sixties have also been particularly badly hit by all they recent changes regarding retirement. They had planned their lives around the old female retirement age of 60. When this was suddenly pushed to 65, it was accepted in the spirit of equality, but brought problems for many because of the attitudes of employers towards older workers. Anyone, male or female who finds themselves without work when they are over 50 can find it almost impossible to find another job. Some people who may have benefited when the number of work-years needed for a state pension was cut to a standard 30 some years ago and felt that they at least had that covered.

Then came the blows. The retirement age for many was pushed back again – more years to struggle for work but no work to be had. Then the number of work-years needed was changed again – and the right to a portion of a husband’s/ex-husband’s pension was removed. Suddenly a woman in her late fifties/ early sixties finds herself being expected to work until 66, 67, 68, etc.

Take the example of Janet, who was divorced in the 1980s, with a young family that forced her to live on benefits until they grew old enough to be left alone. When she was ready to return to full-time work, the jobs had suddenly become tailored to school hours and full-time work was impossible to find. Part-time work left her worse off and increasingly she found employers  refused to take her on for part-time work if she already had one part-time job, so she couldn’t make up the hours that way either. She tried self-employment, but couldn’t make enough to live on because she didn’t have enough money to put into the business. She tried gaining qualifications, but found they only gave employers another excuse to reject her.

At one point Janet was told she would be entitled to a full pension – under the 30 work-year ruling with a combination of home-responsibilities protection (hrp), her own contributions and with several years of entitlement to part of her ex-husband’s pension. But now she doesn’t know where she stands, with just the hrp and her own piece-meal contributions. Because most of her work was part-time, she often didn’t earn enough to pay national insurance and during her self-employment phase, she was exempt from payments on account of her low income. She doesn’t think she has enough contributions to cover her for the 35 work-years she now needs.  Although in theory she still has time to make this up, in practice, she feels there is little chance, because she is constantly turned down for work for being over-qualified and there are even less full-time jobs available now.

Middle-Age Problems for Both Genders

There are also other problems that people of either gender can come up against in middle age:

–        having to give up work to care for elderly parents – or even a partner

–        health problems – perhaps from living in poverty

–        the benefit trap for those living alone (whether single, divorced, widowed) that makes part-time work unviable – especially if there are travel costs involved.

 

The Baby-Boomer Generation

The baby-boomer generation, born after the Second World War, is a phenomenon recognised in many countries, through Europe and the USA. In Britain, it began a decade later due to the continuance of rationing and really dates from about 1955 (exactly the birth-year of the first women expected to work until the age of 65) and lasted until the mid 1960s.

This has always been known. So why does the government act as though it’s something they have just discovered?

In actual fact, Britain was on course to weather the pensions time-bomb much better than the rest of Europe, because there was a reserve of money that had been built up from contributions to cover at least most of it. That was until Gordon Brown decided that there was too much money lying there and raided it to pay for other things. That is where this problem started.

It suits the government and the media to give the impression that all the baby-boomer generation are living the life of riley with houses, cars and occupational pensions, etc. SOME of these undoubtedly are in this position, but certainly not all of them. Those whose lives were blighted by the eradication of industry, and those who were forced to stay at home through lack of childcare, and jobs that didn’t (and don’t) pay enough to live on, are wondering where all this money is that they are supposed to have.

Although some will have resigned themselves to their fate over the years, for many, the anger, even bitterness, at the unfairness of society and the lack of help they experienced in trying to rebuild their own lives, still burns not far from the surface. This is the fighting generation, the generation who have fought for change all their lives, and by sheer numbers have achieved many changes – often too late for their own benefit, but they have opened doors for those who follow.

If this government or any future government, think they can easily take away the rights and privileges of old age that this generation has worked so hard for (and many worked for a pittance before minimum wage), they could be in for a big shock. The monster may be grey now, but it is only sleeping and it could yet rise up for one last battle – the grey-power battle.

Berwick – Promoting Local Talent and Playing ‘what if?’

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Where do we start?

Following on from my last post, Is Berwick to be Doomed by Local Attitudes? the question is where to start?

The logical place is probably listing what we already have that we might be able to build on/ uses in a different way.

  • The Maltings Theatre and Cinema
  • 3 Museums
  • Berwick Record Office
  • Several Art Galleries
  • A Film Festival
  • Craft Fairs
  • Local Drama Companies
  • Local Bands of various kinds – large and small
  • Youth Theatre
  • Local Publishing Company for local writers
  • Numerous local artists and craftspeople
  • Historical guided walks
  • Operatic Society
  • Spittal Variety Group
  • Civic Society exhibitions
  • Choirs
  • Bygone Borderlands events
  • Tweedmouth Feast
  • Spittal Gala
  • Spittal Seaside Festival
  • Riding of the Bounds
  • Minden Day Parade
  • Farmers Markets
  • Local food producers

In short, a lot of local talent! Every time I’ve looked at this list I’ve thought of something else and I probably still haven’t thought everything relevant! We have a lot to work with, but we need to join up the dots and tell people about it.

Perhaps we need a Berwick Guide to ‘What’s On’ and a co-ordinated plan to spread out events throughout the normal visitor season and beyond, so that it looks like an organised programme rather than everybody doing their own thing. This could be sent out through Libraries and Tourist Information Centres (TICs), etc., as far afield as we can send it. Yes, this would need money to produce, but wait a minute and let’s look at a bigger picture.

What if?

Before we can think about looking for funding, we need to make a plan of what we would like to do.

To make a plan, we need to start playing ‘what if’ and make a list of possibilities/ what might work/ what we would like to do, etc. Then we pick out the best/ most relevant/ realistic parts and out them together into something more coherent.

THEN we start to think about how we might find the money. The plan will no doubt be adjusted several times, and the money would probably have to be sought from several sources in relatively small amounts to fund different parts of the project. This can be a bit torturous, but patchwork is the way to do it – voluntary hours can also sometimes count as match-funding. (I’m not a fund-raiser myself, but have sat on enough committees to know that is the way it is done.) Although funding may be more difficult to find that it was a few years ago, that shouldn’t be used an excuse to sit back and do nothing.

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Returning to Berwick’s History

To kick this off, we’ll return to thinking about history. There was a comment made in response to the post Could this be the future for Berwick? That the public “don’t understand the history – it has to be explained.” Of course! That’s what historians are for! If the public understood everything by just looking at a building it would be too easy, they wouldn’t appreciate it in the same way as if they have to make an effort to learn about it. The important thing is that many of the public want to know more.

One of the recurring complaints I’ve heard over the years is that there doesn’t seem to be anywhere visitors can go to find out more about Berwick’s history. No centre for interpretation. Even if they’ve managed to find the town museum hidden in the Barracks complex, they have been disappointed at not finding more local information of the kind they were seeking.

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Berwick sometimes seems complacent about its history. Or perhaps – more likely – even most local people don’t really understand it either! They maybe have heard of disjointed bits and pieces, but don’t understand how it all fits together. After all, the most interesting bits are arguably before the walls were built and that’s a long time ago. For many people, anything before the Victorian era is difficult to get their heads around without help.

So, what if the local historians all put their abilities together and were able to take over one of the empty shops on the High Street, to turn it into a historical interpretation centre for Berwick and perhaps the older part of Tweedmouth.

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  • A sort of long-term exhibition to outline the history of the town and why the historical remains are so important.
  • A first step for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the town, perhaps with scale models of some buildings to help explanations.
  • From there, people could be directed on to:
    • The museums
    • The Record Office
    • Derek Sharman’s walks around the walls
    • The Town Hall tours
    • The Main Guard
    • Etc. To find further information

All these things might make more sense if they have been put into context at the interpretation centre first. This is not to compete with any other organisation, but to supplement and complement their work and make finding them easier for the visitors. Both the town museum and the TIC are now effectively run from outside the town and are therefore not so in touch with local needs.

Perhaps there might be a room in this interpretation centre we could use for occasional talks, classes, other learning activities, for adults/ families/ the general public, visitors or locals. Maybe we could hook up with local film-makers for make some short documentary pieces we could show when speakers/ tutors are not available. (These may also be used for advertising on the internet.) Other spin-off activities might result, e.g. Jim Herbert might occasionally take a group of people up to the castle ruins to talk through an interpretation in the field. Generally educate those who don’t know – both tourists and locals – but want to know more.

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More Suggestions

Amateur groups could maybe help to start events moving. Perhaps with some

  • Street theatre – the youth theatre and/or adults
  • Historical interpretations
  • Pieces by local writers
  • Choirs or smaller vocal groups on the Town Hall steps.
  • Perhaps we should look for a pavement artist

If you make people feel good, and having fun, they are more likely to spend money.

Also as the economy improves, try to bring in more visitors of a higher income level and encourage them to spend in the town. For this we need to pitch shops and services in the town to a level that seems reasonably-priced compared to Edinburgh, but focus on quality over constant cheapness – think value. Some local people may also buy these items, if only for gifts/ special occasions.

Publicity Opportunities 

                     There are actually a number of ways of gaining publicity for free – especially through the internet.

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Also, remember, we are only a year away from the Scottish Referendum. That is likely to bring some more publicity – for Berwick and Carlisle in particular – regarding the effect Scottish independence might have on English border towns. Can we think of a way to cash in on this? We need to plan for it now. If they do vote for independence, we’ll probably have even more publicity – we need to plan ahead to take advantage.

What would be on your ‘what if’ list?