Sunday, 3 February 2013

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Friday, 1 February 2013

I Have a Dream – the 2013 Edition

On August 28th 1963, Martin Luther King Jr delivered the I Have a Dream Speech.  In 17 minutes, he spoke to an unjust present, from an imagined just future.  In the darkest hours of racial prejudice, he illustrated a future which gave people a reason to endure.  If only to see that day.

I have my own dream. 

My motivation in writing this blog, in activism and in campaigning is motivated not simply by outrage at what is, but by this dream I have of the infinite possibilities for humankind if we thought and organised in a new way.

In my dream future I am giving a speech to the graduating class of my grandchildren’s generation.

I’ve never written the speech down. Today, I share it with you.

Our Dreams are Your Reality

I've also imagined myself as Whoopi Goldberg this time

Firstly, I’d like to thank the democratic student body of the school for inviting me to deliver this graduation speech in this year of 2043.  I stand before you today, sixty two years old and almost overwhelmed with joy.

I first imagined giving this speech thirty years ago, in 2013; a world as different to the one you inhabit, as this planet and Mars. So, I’d like to begin by describing for you all the reality of the world we lived in then.   
By the time I finish speaking, you will be left in no doubt why the reality you live in today, was the dream of my generation.  It was the light we followed through one of the darkest periods of human history. 

In 2013, 81% of all the wealth on the planet was owned by 0.1% of the population.  

In 2013, we used a paper currency system, backed by nothingand based solely on debt.  The debt was never repayable, and the average person didn’t even know what money was or that it was created in this way.  

In 2013, 8 million people died because they were too poor to stay alive.

In 2013, in order to get some of this money to pay for sustaining your life, you would have had to take a job.  You needed to dress a certain way and show up at least five days a week, generally Monday to Friday but people did their jobs at weekend and nights too.  These jobs were just one thing: you could be a builder or a baker, a banker or a butler, a teacher or a train driver.  The majority of your days would have been taken up by this one job.  People had to pay other people to take care of their children, so that they could go to work and afford their children.

In 2013, our citizenship was tied solely to the idea of a country.  Countries then went to war with each other to prevent some other country from going to war with them, or to gain resources (human and natural) from the territory of some other country.

In 2013, what was then the government of the United Kingdom collected taxes on the bedrooms of the poor, but didn’t collect taxes from the profits of the biggest corporations in the world.  

In 2013, the government made people who couldn’t find work provide their labour to those same corporations for over 30 hours a week, for months at a time simply to collect a welfare payment from the government to cover basics like food, heating and housing.  

In 2013, some people chose to blame the lack of money on other people who had no money either.  

In 2013, this was encouraged by the government who told the working poor it was the fault of the non working poor; that told the poor people born here that the poor people who moved here were scroungers coming after the little they had.  

In 2013, schools were encouraged to become companies.  The school day was largely conducted in the same building, often in one or a few rooms and was divided into lessons.  Each lesson was about an hour and taught in isolation, so you didn’t get the chance to put these disciplines together and see how they relate to each other. 
In 2013, you would only have taken two hours of physical exercise classes each week, and these were largely spent playing sports.  

In 2013, your intelligence was assessed by sitting you in a room with a list of questions which you had to answer correctly within a specified period of time.  In three hours, you had to demonstrate everything you had learned over eleven years on a given subject and repeat for all of your ten or eleven subjects over the space of your final weeks in school.  Your ability to proceed in education or find a job was based on the result of these tests when you were just sixteen years old.  

In 2013, if you were sick then you could get treated free at the point of use for only certain illnesses.  The choice of drug and physical therapies you were given access to was limited by the ability of the hospital to afford it.  In most parts of the world, you had little or no access to any healthcare without being able to pay for it. 

In 2013, much of the world was run by people who were unelected and representative only of some royal dynasty or dictatorship.  Of the 193 member states of the United Nations (our primitive approach at global democracy) & various other self recognised states only 25 had a female head of state.

In 2013 people living here were represented by political parties, of which there were only two significant ones.  You got to exercise your democratic voice in a vote to decide which party would make all of the decisions on all of the issues across the whole country once every four or five years.  Even then, only just over half of the people eligible actually voted. 

In 2013, in most places (including here) men could only marry women, and women could only marry men.  In many parts of the world you could be put in prison or killed for wanting a relationship with someone the same gender as you.

In 2013, energy was created in a way that had been scientifically proven to damage the planet.  We saw rises in floods, storms, hurricanes, and ice and snow storms.  Areas of the planet became uninhabitable through pollution.  We spilled oil into the seas and killed off plant, fish and animal life.  We actually managed to start heating up the planet and thawing out the polar ice caps.  Land began to sink beneath the sea.  Some of us genuinely believed that human kind would destroy the planet.

But we didn’t.  

I’m standing here with you today and you are stunned.  You do not recognise this world that I am describing.  It bears no relation to your own.  You hear my words and they land on you like the words of some horror story.  

Your value system is the only kind of progress I’m interested in, and the only kind of progress that ever made a difference:  the progress of human values to create a more harmonious, equal planet of people.   Our disaster; the end of our selfish, divided, generation – was the birth of yours.

Today, poverty of any kind no longer exists. 

You earn your living wage of non debt currency through the broadest extent of your contributions to your society.  You will be parents, musicians, food growers, builders, economists, politicians, carers, writers, and philosophers – all in the course of one life. You will have the privilege and the responsibility to express the wholeness of your capabilities in the world, wherever you are born in the world.

You use your Citizen Day each week to clean the streets, mow the grass, process the significantly lower amount of waste you produce, and the other important maintenance work required to live in this society.

Your formal education has taken place in classrooms, fields, factories, opera houses, theatres, historical sites and hospitals across the world.  You will have access to education for the rest of your lives, and will be encouraged to learn, grow and develop.

You have been taught and encouraged to honour your physical and mental health.   

Your body is not some vessel with which to carry around your mind, but an intrinsic part of the system which sustains you and is treated as such.  You are given the time, space and encouragement to be physically active every day.

If you are sick, you will be treated.  You will all, every last one of you, be treated to the highest possible standard gifted by science.  You will not make a choice about your health based on the amount of wealth required to purchase it.  

You are all duel citizens of your direct local community, and the world.  The prosperity of one piece of land occurs to you as no more important than that of any other.  You are in competition with no one based on the colour of their skin, the piece of land they were born on, or their views on how we all got here in the first place.

You will be free to fall in love and spend your life with whichever consenting adult you choose, and no one will judge you for it.

You are active citizens in your direct democracy. You contribute to discussions and consensus decisions every day about the development of your local community and the planet.  You will draft sections of the constitution; you will be a leader and a constituent every day of your lives. You see it as your right and your responsibility to share resources, to set social and moral standards, to discuss and develop ideas, to ensure just and due process of law, to resolve conflicts.  These are as much a part of your life as playing with your friends, or the enjoying of your wide and varied entertainments.

You live on a clean, healthy planet and your priority in all decisions is to keep it that way.  You understand the fragility of the ecosystem which sustains you and you are wise enough to put the survival of all humankind, above any passing selfishness of your generation.

Your world is not perfect.  Your lives will not be without sadness aswell as happiness, or without defeat aswell as triumph.  But you have the foundations, you have the context, you have the framework of a world which wants you to win; that wants you to thrive; that sees you as an essential player in the team.  

My generation took us to the brink of disaster and over the edge during and after 2013.  But with every frustration, every outrage, every injustice, and every new and worse decision – I kept my own hope alive by seeing past it to this day, in this place, speaking to you.  

The hard truth is this: my generation had to destroy their broken world before they were willing to build a new one that worked for everyone.  There was conflict, there was chaos, there was terror and there was sadness.  
But today, in this class, every effort by every human being to create a new world is realised in you.  You are the new world.  Our dreams are your reality.

The Dream Starts Here

This is my dream.  You might have another, and that's no bad thing.  But I reccomend if you don't have one, that you create one today.  

Listen to the words of Harriet Tubman. Harriet was born into slavery, and grew into an abolitionist and freedom fighter.  She helped create the Underground Railroad which liberated slaves during the US Civil War, and after the war she fought for women's suffrage.  She is a great hero of mine.

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Tax & Cut Time Bomb: April Showers Pain on the Poor

In the UK, the month of April is normally associated with torrential showers of rain.  In April of 2013, this month will be remembered for torrential showers of pain from the corporatized state's imposed punitive measures on the poorest people in the land.  Today’s article leads you through the unprecedented state abetted impoverishment of the nation.

The New Poll Tax

As of April, anyone currently claiming Council Tax benefit will see a rise in their annual council tax bill of up to £600 a year.  The central government has renamed the benefit Council Tax Support, cut the amount available by an arbitrary 10% and passed responsibility for administering it down to local councils.  This is the state equivalent of lighting the fuse of a poverty bomb and dropping it into the lap of local decision makers.

Council Tax Benefit currently supports 5.9 million UK households, 3.2 million of which are working age.  It is payable to pensioners, the disabled, people in low paid jobs and people unemployed through circumstance or sickness.  The government has stated that existing support must be retained for pensioners, but is providing no such stipulation for any of the other groups.  In fact, it will be single parents who work part time and require childcare who will be worst hit, with a possible 333% increase in the council tax contributions. 

The stated purpose of the cut is to reduce the current Council Tax Benefit bill by 10%, and is in no way based on the reality of the need for the support by the groups who currently rely on it.  The Resolution Foundation published its report No Clear Benefit on the changes this morning claiming it in effect sets a tax rate of 81p in the pound for the lowest paid workers in England. 

The devolved Welsh Parliament is absorbing the 10% cut entirely, whilst Scotland is splitting the cut between Central and Local government to make it easier to abate the impacts on constituents.  No such compassion has been showed by central government in England.

Gavin Kelly, the Resolution Foundation's chief executive, said: "Millions of England's poorest households… are already very close to the edge given falling wages, tax credits and benefits. Very few of those currently exempt from paying the full rate of council tax are expecting a large new bill to drop on to their doormat this spring. When it does, they are going to find it hard to cope."

The Bedroom Tax

In the same month, the Coalition’s infamous Bedroom Tax kicks in.  The Bedroom Tax stipulates that anyone claiming housing benefit faces cuts in their payments relative to the ‘under occupancy’ of their home.  If they class you as having one room more than needed, you lose 14% and it rises to a 25% cut if you’re classed as having two.  To anyone familiar with being poor, losing between £520-1300 a year means choosing between eating three meals a day and having the heating on for an hour in the evening. 

Do we really, as a nation, need to add to the suffering of a grieving family, the burden of making this kind of decision?

Inside Housing report that the plan will impact 660,000 social housing tenants, around two thirds of which will contain a person with a disability.  

Universal Credit and the Benefit Caps

April will also see the launching of Universal Credit.  Universal Credit will also be capped at £26,000 a year.  This cap will apply to all the benefits now rolled in to Universal Credit.  These include: Housing Benefit, Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits, Carers Allowance, Maternity Benefits and Widows Benefits. 

These are the benefits that help people support sick, elderly and disabled loved ones; that help support disabled people to find and maintain jobs; that ensure poor children and poor families are supported whilst working; that women can take time to prepare for and recover from giving birth to their children and be home to take care of their newborn children; that bereaved pensioners are supported.

Barriers to Making Claims

The Universal Credit places un necessary barriers in the way of people claiming social security.  It means where historically some benefits relating to children were paid directly to women (a saving grace for women in relationships with abusive, alcoholic or drug dependent partners) they will now be paid together, to just one partner.  The system is also only claimable online and payable into a bank account, requiring people not only to have access to a computer and be computer literate, but also have a bank account to be able to make a claim. 
This is simply fantasy, which is exactly what service providers on the front line are saying to the Department of Work and Pensions, but sadly this has all fallen on deaf ears. 

A False Cap & Propaganda
The Government has cynically branded this cap as some sort of principled stand for the working poor of England.  They say that no one on benefits should receive higher payments per year than the average wage after tax.  While this makes a great sound byte, particular when couple with the kind of appalling ad campaigns below, there is more to the story.

The reason benefits are rising higher than wages in the UK is because corporations have ceased to pay a living wage to a vast amount of UK workers.  For some time, the state system has been protecting the working poor from this reality.  

The reason benefits have risen higher than wages is not because they are some sort of sop to the masses; it is because they have risen with the true cost of living.  Wages on the other hand, have not.

A government worth its salt, who truly wanted to support the rights of the working poor, would be addressing the fact the companies have ceased to pay a living wage.  Instead, this government has simply taken the safety net away for everyone.

The Impact

A joint report by the Children’s Society and Disability Rights UK on the Inquiry into Universal Credit led by Tanni Grey Thompson concluded up to half a million disabled people could lose out on Universal Credit alone.  These include:
  • 230,000 severely disabled people who live alone, or with only a young carer – usually lone parents with school age children – will get between £28 and £58 less in benefits every week.
  • 100,000 disabled children stand to lose up to £28 a week
  • Up to 116,000 disabled people who work will be at risk of losing around £40 a week.
Between the cuts in tax credits and the Universal Credit, the government itself confirmed that 200,000 children will be plunged into poverty as of April 1 2013.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, the Populace is Snoring

This is the nightmare that awaits the sick, the disabled and the poor of our country in April this year. What makes it even worse, is that these groups are already suffering and expanding at an eye watering rate down to the austerity measures already implemented.  Homelessness has risen 26% in the last three years.  Between 2011 and 2012 the number of families forced by poverty and a housing shortage to live in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation rose 44%.  The number of people dependent upon Food Banks has sky rocketed from around 41,000 in 2010 to over 138,000 today.  The government’s response to the fact to this astonishing rise in Food Banks? People cannot afford to eat, they cannot afford a home, and the government is taking yet more away from them claiming the rise in Food Banks is the fault of the poor and them choosing to spend their money on non essential items.

The government tells us that this forms part of their vital austerity programme, and that the UK simply cannot afford to maintain its existing levels of support.  This is simply not true.

The New Poll Tax aims to save the government £1.8bn by 2014/5. The Bedroom Tax aims to save £500m a year.  The Benefit Cap aims to save £290m 2012/3. 

At the same time, the Chancellor gave a tax CUT to the country’s highest earners of £3bn a year. 

This amount alone is greater than ALL the money saved from the hideous schemes outlined above. 

Not only this, but Corporation Tax has been cut by 1% losing the Treasury yet another £920m each and every year that it applies.

Meanwhile Corporations are already failing to pay their Corporation Tax, with Chair of the Public Accounts Committee stating the Corporations are now seeing tax avoidance as a legitimate means of making a profit.

In response, neoliberals and the government will say that this all makes perfect sense.  That cutting government costs associated with social security, and reducing the tax burden on the wealthy and corporations will stimulate growth and the end result will be more jobs and prosperity for all.  
The reality is that by the government’s own measures their policy is failing, as these policies always do.  They fail because they forget that companies only recruit staff and increase wages when their businesses expand, and their businesses expand only when there is a wealthy consumer class able to buy their goods.
Business relies on a public having enough money to buy the things they want, because they have money left over after they have paid for the things they need.

The results?  The deficit of the annual budget is rising not falling.  The national debt of the country is rising not falling.  Unemployment is rising, not falling (with govt massaging official figures by counting those in the government’s work programme, and the under employed as employed).  Underemployment, where people have to take part time jobs because full time jobs are not available, is rising, not falling.  Wages are stagnating.  In the last quarter of 2012, the UK economy did not grow, but shrank by 0.3% raising the likelihood of a triple dip recession…meaning the government coming out of recession, only to fall back into it again three times over in as many years.  This is the slowest ‘economic recovery’ in the UK in over a century.  

This is an not an economic recovery it is a still unfolding economic disaster.  Every new policy of austerity for the poor and tax cuts for the rich that this government rolls out pushes us further into debt and farther from recovery.

I have not even included all of the tax cuts on the rich, or all of the tax rises and service cuts facing the poor in today’s piece.  This is merely a selection to represent to jaw dropping scale of injustice facing the population of the country.

This April, if we do not act, the April showers will rain pain down on the poorest of the land with a force like Britain has not seen this side of World War II.  We need to mount the fight back now, because come April, the showers begin and with them the dampening of the dreams of a generation.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Poem: I Don’t Do Politics

‘I don’t do politics’ drips from the lips and is somehow a praiseworthy thing
Like abdicating responsibility for your world is the latest trend that’s ‘in’.
You can have a strong opinion, on some celebrity’s hair or shoes
But for pity’s sake do not bore on ‘bout some story on the news.

“Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty we are free at last”:
The ringing in my ears of calls from heroes of the past.
The men and women of yester year who held roses up to guns
So our generation could grow obese and swap politics for fun.

We really weren’t built for this, the generation of me, me, me
We were raised to believe there’s no such thing as society
That individual freedom was the highest attainable goal
While in the background our fathers broke their backs while digging coal.

Not for us this laboured life of working til your dead.
We’d go to University and wear shirts with white collars instead.
‘There’s no such thing as working class in Britain anymore
We’re a great big pile of middle class; there’ll not be any poor!’

The dream they sold us every day of our piss poor education
While Thatcher, Major and later Blair sold off the entire nation
We didn’t need our civil rights and business did it best
As they gave away the keys to the public treasure chest

They sold off all the factories; they sold off all the mills
Instead of milking cows, the poor swipe cartons at the tills
They sold off the utilities; thus privatising heat.
And now pensioners are forced to choose to warm their rooms or eat.

They sold off our national railways, gave Branson and co our trains
Now it costs the sky for standing room only while record profit reigns.
And not a penny back to us who built and paid for it all.
Apparently public money spent on public good is terrible.

And now they’re taxing our bedrooms to afford a tax cut for the rich
While the idea of affordable homes for all lays dying in a ditch.
They’re forcing the unemployed to work as shelf fillers full time for free
Or lose the payments guaranteed to us all under social security.

The sick and the disabled are having their life lines cut to shreds
As the department of work and pensions becomes the department of rolling heads.
 They’re selling off the hospitals; they’re selling off the schools
They’re busy giving tax breaks to the banks that broke the rules.

While all of this is happening some of us are coming round
From a fast food anaesthetic which has kept our dosed minds bound.
But still a great majority refuse to rouse from sleep
When every single one of us is needed on the street
We fight them in the Twitterverse, the Blogosphere and Reddit
We repost every bad word said with a funny pic of the fool who said it
We fight them on their servers; we hack into their sites.
We spread their secrets round the world in gifs and megabytes.

But if nobody is listening, or joining the front line
If the cavalry will never come and the war is lost within our time
If no one dares do politics, or step up to have their say
We let the vanquishers vanquish every hard won right away.

Our children will have it worse than our great grandparents had it
They’ll work harder for longer for less on a dirty, dying planet.
They’ll ask us where we were, when their futures were sold at auction
To a capitalist class who put their own greed over caution.

 They’ll ask us why we can’t afford to fix their broken bones
‘What happened to the NHS?’ Their wretched mouths will moan
They’ll suffer from diseases that were eradicated decades ago
Rickets, scurvy, tuberculosis rise as we sink to a whole new low.

So when you say ‘I don’t do politics’, what do you really mean?
You’d rather stay fickle and facile rather than grow as human being?
The thing is, the planet needs you, your unborn successors too
We simply cannot win this thing without the help of you.

The time has come for our generation to put down its childish things
The fight of our lives us upon and the bell for round one, it rings.
The time is now for us to stamp our will upon the earth
To stand in solidarity with all those who’ve been hurt.

We need to take our rightful place among the soldiers of our time
To say ‘Up with this we will not put’ and form an unbreakable line
From pole to pole across the earth, all of us saying together:
“We will not let you destroy the world. Equality and justice forever!”

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