Thursday, 8 May 2014

The United Kingdom a plutocrats' paradise

David Cameron has intervened to keep the cost of gun licences frozen at £50: a price that hasn't changed since 2001. It costs the police £196 to conduct the background checks. As a result  £17 million a year is lost by subsidising the pursuits of the exceedingly rich.

The Country Land and Business Association complains that it's not fair to pass on the full cost of the licence to the owners of shotguns; unlike, say, the owners of passports or driving licences, who are charged on the basis of full cost recovery.

The government has also announced it would raise the subsidy it provides for grouse moors from £30 per hectare to £56. Yes, the British government subsidises grouse moors, which are owned by 1% of the 1% and used by people who are scarcely less rich.

When pheasants are reared, they are classed as livestock: that means the people who raise them are exempt from some payments of value added tax and certain forms of planning control, on the grounds that they are producing food. But as soon as they're released they are classed as wild animals. Otherwise you wouldn't be allowed to shoot them. But if you want to re-capture the survivors at the end of the shooting season to use as breeding stock, they cease to be wild and become livestock again, because you aren't allowed to catch wild birds with nets. If, however, pheasants cause damage to neighbouring gardens, or to cars, or to the people travelling in those cars, the person who released them bears no liability, because for this purpose they are classed as wild animals – even if, at the time, they are being rounded up as legal livestock.

In the treatment of pheasant and grouse shoots we see in microcosm what is happening in the country as a whole.socially and politically, the very rich are protected from the forces affecting everyone else.  The United Kingdom is a plutocrats' paradise, in which the rich are scarcely troubled by laws or the fixes, while the poor are plunged into a brutal world of casual labour, insecurity and legal restraint.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


The Order of the White Feather was founded in Britain at the start of the the great war (1914/17)  by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald. It encouraged women to hand out white feathers to young men not in uniform in the hope of shaming them into enlisting.

The feather symbolised cowardice and effeteness – a scornful statement that they were not real men because they were not fighting in defence of their country.

The white feather movement became very popular, spreading to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Mindful that many men on the home front were either engaged in essential war work or permanently invalided out of the army, the government issued the Silver War Badge or lapel badges to distinguish them from ‘shirkers’.

But how did white feathers come to signify cowardice? The story originates in England at the turn of the 18th century, when cockfighting was a popular sport. Some of the birds tossed into the ring had white tail feathers. In no hurry to fight, they would turn away from their opponents, displaying these feathers – hence their association with cowardice.

Personal accounts illustrate the impact on some men of being given a white feather like this from a letter published in The Guardian in 2008:

“My grandfather’s attempt to volunteer was turned down in 1914 because he was short-sighted. But in 1916, as he walked home to south London from his office, a woman gave him a white feather. He enlisted the next day.

By that time, they cared nothing for short sight. They just wanted a body to stop a shell, which Rifleman James Cutmore duly did in February 1918, dying of his wounds on March 28. My Mother was nine, and never got over it. In her last years, in the 1980s, her once fine brain so crippled by dementia that she could not remember the names of her children, she could still remember his dreadful, lingering, useless death. She could still talk of his last leave, when he was so shell-shocked he could hardly speak and my grandmother ironed his uniform every day in the vain hope of killing the lice. She treasured his letters from the front, as well as information about his brothers who also died. She blamed the politicians. She blamed the generation that sent him to war. But most of all, she blamed that unknown woman who gave him a white feather.”

Francis Beckett,
The Guardian , 11 November 2008

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

If only the Labour leaders had done for us what Thatcher had done for her class?

During the great miners strike of 84/85 and the years that have since followed I have heard it said many times by Arthur Scargill and others, that if the leaders of the Labour movement in parliament had done for our class what Thatcher had done for her class, then we would certainly not be suffering as we are today at the hands of this coalition government and how true is that?

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of that strike, which would not have escaped the notice of many comrades and especially those of us who were around at the time giving what support and solidarity we could to our brothers, sisters and comrades in the coalfields up and down the country from Kent to Scotland, and indeed that awful time will not fade so easily from our memories as the years roll on by from one decade to the next or will it ever be forgotten by those miners who stood tall and came out for that long year.

There has of course been much written, recorded and spoken about that epic battle in the time that has since past, I myself have written a wee bit about these events on this blog before now, but there is no escaping the fact that the best accounts come from miners themselves who were really in the thick of it all, there can be none better!

I can remember miners telling me that they were not just fighting for jobs and the retention, a future for that industry, and, of course for their children and their children’s, children, but also for their class, and that can clearly be seen now thirty years on, what of the evidence, visit the former pit communities today (as I have) and you will still see the results of that defeat, although come to think of it, visit almost any workplace in Britain and you will see it too. We must never forget who were our friends and who were our enemies in that war, nor the need to start seriously looking for the means of taking our revenge. Yes, some may have cheered when Thatcher kicked the bucket at last, but lets put this into real perspective, it's the whole stinking system she fought for and defended which needs to go to the grave with her. That would be a lasting legacy for the pit communities of 84/85. Thirty years on and this is always on my mind, each and every day when I think of how we are now being made to pay with enforced austerity, striped of rights we once had in the workplace and not to mention the inactivity of Labour in office to repeal Trade Union Law only leaves a much more bitter taste in my mouth.

Anyway, this was meant to be an introduction to what I consider an excellent article that came my way of Twitter this morning. It is the account of a then young man and miner, now looking back at his experience at Orgreave as published in the Socialist Appeal  now reproduced in its entirety on this blog, a very good read and recommended comrades.   

The Battle of Orgreave is the name given to a confrontation between police and picketing miners at a British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, in 1984, during the UK miners' strike. In 1991, South Yorkshire Police were forced to pay out half a million pounds to 39 miners who were arrested in the events at the Battle of Orgreave.

A young miner’s story

Many of those who took part in the Miners Strike of 1984-5 were young men new to the industry. They were fighting for their futures. This is the personal story of just one of those who joined the strike and took part in the year-long struggle. This article starts with the words he wrote in his diary the day after the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ where striking miners were brutally attacked by the forces of the state.

Miners were sitting or playing football in front of the state police line, suddenly police horses to our rear, great sheets of re-in forced plastic riot shields hiding the line of ‘Maggies’ men, also dogs to our left. ‘What’s the crack?’ the pickets asked, as the brave men with horses, dogs, weapons and the right to arrest innocent people with the charge of rioting, started provoking. After a few arrests, our question was answered after one picket was being smashed over the head by a couple of brave men, after he had been knocked over by a brave man on horseback. Our question was answered alright. Miners immediately replied to the provocation, as they ripped walls apart with their bare hands, pulled down lamp posts and dragged scrap cars from yards into the road.

The police banged their shields with their batons, wanting more, so it seemed; this need for aggro was short lived as their Maggie SS Officer reading the riot act for the last time. As the riot act was read for the last time twice more, reinforcements were sent for and we were eventually forced to the bridge. This is where the lamp posts and scrap cars were used.
About half hour of running each other followed, with us in boots or pumps and tee-shirts, them in uniform, with batons and shields and the power of arrest. Eventually they had to use their horses with riot snatch squads; squads behind like tanks and infantry men, as if in war time.
After a short while we returned to our cars with over a hundred men missing through arrest or injury, then raced back to our strike centre to watch the news. Even the news showed provocation, although nothing was done about it! This was the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, I was proud to be there, proud to be a miner. No person there will forget or forgive the brave men in uniform that stood for Maggie that day. “

Ian Pyatt: 18th June 1984. Aged 18.

This short piece was written just after the day in question, in the front of my diary. Feelings were, of course running high and looking back I do not feel any less angry, neither any less proud of the fact we fought so hard; not for pay rises or to improve working conditions in this instance but for the future of our industry and for a future of many employed that supplied it.
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of The Miner’s Strike and, rightly so, much has been written and said about the vastly important work that was undertaken by the women. They came very much into their own during the strike and if not for their endeavours, our fight would have been over much earlier. I believe, as some of our leaders seemed to fade after the year long strike, the women grew in confidence, in strength and many went on to become leaders in their own right.

The last generation of miners

We were almost the last of generation of miners to come through. We had barely finished school and were swept into this scary political arena, which was almost as daunting as the conditions which we were becoming accustomed to. I left school in 1982, a year when unemployment was running high but I was lucky to be offered a place in The Royal Engineers as a junior leader in the British Army and a job in mining at Ireland Colliery. I chose the latter for job security. How ironic that, after barely two years, we were on strike for that very reason; almost laughable.

Collieries were being closed at an ever increasing rate. The government weren’t just closing unprofitable collieries; they were running the whole industry down. The arguments about a ballot will rage on forever and the miners that remember the votes in the early 80’s will always feel vindicated and argue against those that screamed for one.

I believe, however, that if the vote had gone to strike, certain areas would have done their own thing, as was the case in the 1970’s when the bonus schemes were adopted by some areas against national policy. The true facts of the matter were, we were a nationalised industry and the profitable collieries subsidised the unprofitable ones; exhausted collieries were closed without argument. Our whole economic fuel policy was in change and it was simply, in the words of an old miner, ‘put up or shut up!’

I was at the Derbyshire Miners’ offices when our area officials and delegates met. When they finally appeared, they declared the Derbyshire Area was supporting the strike against pit closures, so were ‘putting up’ I guess.

This was the start for me of a year where I did a lot of growing up very quickly and came to realise that politicians, police, lawyers and certainly the media actually did lie. I along with many other young miners gave up our nights out, our fashions, our normal life to fight tooth and nail for our futures. I don’t say for one minute we had it worse than those men and women with families and mortgages and bills to pay for, some of which took years to pay off and, of course, those whose relationships ended under the financial pressures of such a traumatic year.

Treated like criminals

All I would say though, is that it wasn’t exactly all beer and skittles for us either. Many were arrested for the first time in their young lives, some did time in prison; which simply would never have happened without the strike.

I saw lads arrested for simply being in the wrong place, doing absolutely nothing wrong. We were spoke to and treated like criminals by police, mainly the coppers from outside Derbyshire, some of whom had never even seen a colliery before in their lives and had no understanding of community spirit.

All, of course, to break us down and get us to go back to work and go back some invariably did. Some through desperation, some because they simply had had enough and didn’t believe we could possibly win with, so it seemed, everything and almost everyone against us.
It was the saddest day of my life at the time, the day before my 19th birthday on the 25th January, when my father regrettably returned to work. He did so for the reason, which took me years to appreciate; that he had less than a year until his early retirement and felt betrayed by the younger men that he was fighting for, who had given up months ago. I lived at home with my parents and a sister on an YTS scheme. You could say money was in short supply.

When we returned to work, men who had been friends for years fell out; some didn’t speak for ages; some - not many - never again. I personally felt betrayed by the leaders of the Deputies Union NACODS, who really could have made a difference. But, as the years have rolled by, I don’t feel any real anger. The ones that worked all the way through the dispute, in areas such as Nottingham and South Derbyshire (although some were on strike even there by the way) were ‘rewarded’ by the Tories, in exactly the same way as ourselves. We lost our jobs and our communities suffered for it.

For the lads that returned early, I don’t have issues anymore. A miner to me, no matter which area or country he is from, is a brother and always will be. But I am as proud today for myself and the ones that walked back into work under our banners on the 5th March 1985 with heads held high, totally vindicated in the efforts against pit closures.

Make no mistake, we lost, but more importantly our country lost. It was the start of a generation that accepted ‘a life on benefits’ and our communities suffered, as they do now, Arthur Scargill always argued that it wasn’t just an argument whether a pit was economic or not but the social cost That is why we find many old mining communities with food banks, modern day pawn shops and loan sharks thriving.

Next time your gas or electric bill falls through your door or you receive your email with the details, the amount you pay is the very reason for our failure back in 1984/85 for which I’m so sorry for but you know at least we ‘put up’ and gave it a go.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Nuclear Madness

There are more than 17,000 warheads held by Russia, the US and the other seven nuclear-armed states.  Russia and the US still have an estimated 1,800 warheads on high alert, ready to launch between five and 15 minutes after receiving the launch order.  For as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of an inadvertent, accidental or deliberate detonation remains.

Chatham House report lists 13 instances since 1962 when nuclear weapons were nearly launched. The Chatham House authors say the risks appear to be rising. Nuclear weapons are spreading – most recently to North Korea – and disarmament is stalling.

Richard Nixon and Boris Yeltsin both raised concerns among their top advisers with their heavy drinking. In May 1981 the French president, Fran├žois Mitterand, left the French nuclear launch codes at home in the pocket of his suit. President Jimmy Carter did the same in the 1970s, and the suit as well as the codes were taken to the dry cleaners. The US launch codes went missing again when Ronald Reagan was shot on 30 March 1981. FBI agents had them, along with the injured president's bloodied trousers. From 18 to 21 August 1991, an attempted coup in the Soviet Union resulted in President Mikhail Gorbachevlosing control of his nuclear briefcase for three days after it was confiscated by Minister of Defence Dmitry Yazov, one of the coup leaders. Yazov executed Order 8825, which stated that ‘all branches of the USSR Armed Forces on Soviet territory shall move to Increased Combat Readiness’, described by Deputy Prosecutor General Yevgeniy Lisov as a state of ‘readiness for war’. Lisov later suggested that, in hindsight, one cannot eliminate the possibility that nuclear weapons could theoretically have been used.
Overall, between 1975 and 1977, 120,000 members of the US military forces had direct contact with nuclear weapons. Over the years, a large number of servicemen and servicewomen have been removed from their posts for alcohol and drug abuse, and delinquency.

In January 1961, a B-52 bomber broke up over North Carolina, dropping its two nuclear bombs over the town of Goldsboro. One of the bombs activated, engaging its trigger mechanism. A single low-voltage switch was all that stood between the eastern US and catastrophe.

In September 1980 in Arkansas, a maintenance engineer dropped a socket wrench into a silo holding a Titan II nuclear missile, igniting its fuel and triggering an explosion which sent the warhead flying. It landed near a road but did not detonate.

In the early 1960s, NATO weapons handlers  pulled the arming wires out of a Mark 7 nuclear warhead  while they were unloading it from a plane.  When the wires were pulled, the arming sequence began – and if  the X-Unit charged, a Mark 7 could be detonated by its radar, by its
barometric switches, by its timer or by falling just a few feet from a  plane and landing on a runway.

In another incident, on 16 January 1961, at the Lakenheath  Air Base in Suffolk, England, when the pilot started the  engines of his F-100D fighter carrying a Mark 28 hydrogen  bomb, the underwing fuel tanks were mistakenly jettisoned, and ruptured when they hit the runway.

Washington, June 1980 A faulty computer chip triggered a nuclear attack warning on the US, giving the impression that more than 2,000 Soviet missiles were on the way.

Cuba, October 1962 Four nuclear-armed Soviet submarines were deployed in the Sargasso Sea at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. US warships had warned Moscow that they would be practising dropping depth charges, but the message did not reach the submarines. With his communications cut off and believing himself under attack, one commander ordered a launch of nuclear warheads, declaring:  “We’re going to blast them now! We will die,  but we will sink them all – we will not disgrace our navy!” He was unable to communicate  with the Soviet General Staff at the time, and therefore  was under pressure to retaliate without being able to clearly assess the nature and context of the risk that the  submarine faced: “Maybe the war has already started up  there, while we are doing somersaults here" He was persuaded to desist by his second-in-command. In a similar situation, the commander of submarine B-130, Captain Nikolai Shumkov, ordered torpedoes to be readied in an effort to give his crewmen the impression that he was  ready to launch a nuclear response to US bombardment. However, this was primarily because he was concerned that the political officer on board would report to superiors any reluctance to do so under crisis circumstances.

Soviet Union, September 1983 Shortly after midnight on 25 September an alert sounded at a Soviet satellite early warning station. The data suggested five intercontinental ballistic missiles were heading towards the country. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Yevgrafovich defied protocol by not reporting the incident to his superior, gambling that it was a false alarm. It turned out that sunlight glinting off US territory had confused the satellite.

Russia, January 1995 On 25 January Norwegian scientists launched a rocket to study the aurora borealis over the Svalbard region. They warned Moscow but the message never reached the radar operators at the Russian early warning stations, who mistook the rocket for an incoming Trident submarine-launched missile. President Boris Yeltsin was discussing his decision with his top military commander when the rocket fell wide of Soviet territory.

The first time that Israel considered a ‘nuclear  demonstration’ was on the eve of the 1967 war when  it assembled two or three nuclear explosive devices. The second episode when Israel considered nuclear use was during the early days of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. According to Arnan ‘Sini’ Azaryahu, an aide to Yisrael Galili (a senior adviser to Meir), some of the Israeli leadership considered  nuclear deployments during the 1973 war. Azaryahu relates how Dayan requested that the prime minister  authorize the head of the nuclear agency, Shalheveth Freier, to initiate the preparatory steps for creating ‘immediate operational options of nuclear demonstration’

In 2001 and 2002, India and Pakistan went into a renewed cycle of hostility as a result of the unresolved Kashmir conflict and additional provocations. For 10 months, between December 2001 and October 2002, India and Pakistan kept one million soldiers in a state of high readiness.  India had rejected the first use of nuclear weapons, but President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan refused to do the same and stated that the “possession of nuclear weapons by any state obviously implies they will be used under some circumstances”.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

"The Abolition of the Wage System"?

I support the abolition of money and therefore I support the total abolition of our current wage system in its entirety. I suppose you could say that I’m thinking outside of the box and without a straitjacket on.

I am of course, not the first person in the world to advocate such a goal and objective. The Industrial Workers of the World believe in a better life for all. In considering what's right and what's wrong with our present society, the I.W.W. naturally includes how we are paid for the work we do: wages and salaries.

And then there was Marx: "Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!" (Quote from Karl Marx's Value, Price and Profit.)

What are wages?
Wages or salaries are the money given to us by the boss in return for a set amount of time we spend at the job. We get so much an hour, or so much a month. Whether we've spent the day working hard or had to "look busy" much of the time, we receive exactly the same amount.

But for the same eight hours of employment, people are paid greatly varying amounts. We are paid different rates for doing the same job in different locations (i.e., truck assemblers get paid more in Windsor than in Vancouver) and for doing different jobs in the same location (i.e., in Vancouver accountants are paid more than daycare workers). Even when we're employed by the same company in the same building, various tasks are often paid at varying rates (i.e., electricians, assembly line workers, secretaries).

These differences in pay are mostly a result of events which happened in our past: our history. Certain jobs get a particular rate of pay because of some decisions by the boss. Other jobs get a particular rate of pay because of actions taken by our forefathers and foremothers. As teachers grew more militant. for example, that task changed from a low-paying to a better-paying one. Overall, unionized jobs show the results of past fights for better pay and conditions.

On the other hand, a failure to stay militant results in lower comparative wages There was a time in B.C.'s history when woods workers overall were among the highest-paid blue-collar employees. No longer.

On every job, a number of excuses are offered to explain why I should get more pay than you, and why he or she receive more than both of us combined. Years of education and training are often cited, though this education is largely supported out of taxes we all pay. So those who receive this education really benefit twice. Meanwhile, should employees with four years of university receive more than employees with seven years of an apprenticeship?

Another argument is that some people have more responsibility or take more risks. This can be in connection with our own life or others' lives, or concerned with valuable items or money. But then, why aren't those who work at the most hazardous jobs (as determined by Workers' Compensation Board statistics) the most highly paid? Or. why don't bank tellers earn a lot of money?

Should the people who produce what society needs most be the best paid? This would mean that farmers and agricultural laborers who produce our food would be among the highest paid people. They aren't now! And those who manufacture our clothing are still often immigrant women working for very, very low pay in sweat-shop conditions. And the host of non-union carpenters and others building our housing aren't very well reimbursed for their work, either.

What's wrong with wages?

 As can be seen, then, the present wage system is totally irrational. It is a hodgepodge of differing amounts paid to people for a range of often-contradictory "reasons". In fact the work of all of us (however humble) is equally necessary to keep this society going.

About the only sure conclusion that can be gathered from the present wage system is that the further up the corporate ladder from actually producing goods or services a person is, the more money he or she takes home.

As well, most of us are really paid only enough to meet our basic needs. Advertising makes sure we consume as much as possible, and the widespread extension of credit makes sure we spend most of our lives in debt.

Besides being irrational, the present wage system is completely undemocratic. We are constantly told by teachers, the media and politicians that we are free citizens of a democracy. But this democracy ends for us the moment we show up for work. On the job we not only do not make the decisions, but we have to obey the orders of people we definitely did not elect to rule over us.

If we don't like it, we are "free" to quit. After that, we can either "freely" starve to death or "freely" agree to obey the orders of some other employer on some other job.

When we are employed, we get as wages only a part of the value of what we produce. We are therefore robbed at the point of production; this is the true meaning of exploitation. Besides our wages, the product of our labour goes to pay for raw materials, for research and development, for things our community needs (paid for in the form of taxes) and for profits taken by the already rich owners and managers.

It's true that in any social system workers would not be able to receive as wages the complete value of the product of our labor, for all systems require plant maintenance, research and development, etc. But the decision as to how to divide up among these categories the wealth produced as a result of our work is not made by us.

Until we who produce this wealth can decide ourselves how it will be used, there is no such thing as a "fair" wage or salary for any of us.

Finally, the wage system as a whole defines our society. Who can really determine what we are "worth"? To classify people according to "worth" is undemocratic, anti-human, a vestige of a barbarous past. All human beings have worth by nature of their humanness. It is only a step from classifying people according to "worth" to deciding to exterminate the "unworthy". The roots of the Russian Gulag and the German gas chamber lie within the wage system.

In our society today, we pretend there are paying jobs for all who "want to work" and those who have such jobs enjoy the best things of life. The rest of society - housewives, the unemployed, senior citizens and so on - has to settle for a lower standard of living and/or being dependent on the personal goodwill of those who are presently employed.

No one has ever proven that our society can provide a constantly-growing number of jobs to match population growth and displacement by technology. Indeed, the evidence is that society can't. But under the wage system, society is still organized to offer rewards and punishments, praise and blame, as though these wage-paying jobs are available for all.

What would replace the wage system?
The present irrational, undemocratic wage system has to go. What the I.W.W. offers in its stead is not a blueprint, but an opportunity. We believe a reorganization of society is needed so that decision-making on the job as well as off is made democratically.

Since human beings are remarkably ingenious, we believe different groups of people will come up with different democratic alternatives to the present way of running society.

Wouldn't this be a happier place to live if the available work and resources were more equally shared than at present?

Shouldn't we put an end to the traffic in human flesh - where we have to compete with others just like ourselves as we sell our talents and time and selves to the highest bidder in order to get a means of livelihood?

How much of what we do at our job is really necessary, helpful, ecologically beneficial, moral?

How can there be world-wide unemployment on a planet where much of the population is starving, ill-housed, ill-clothed, illiterate? Why is the world so organized that although there is an enormous amount of work to be done there is a shortage of jobs?

Do schools really have to stress competition (if two people help each other, that's "cheating") and ranking (you "pass," I "fail")? What would society be like if education instead stressed co-operation and full development of the self as part of the whole community?

Is a barter- or money-based marketplace the only possible means by which we all can provide each other with what we need for a good life?

Why shouldn't things of which there is an actual or achievable abundance - such as basic food stuffs, basic clothing, public transport, etc. - be made "free"? Of course, nothing is "free" since we have to work to produce things. However, many goods and services such as primary and secondary education, libraries, roads, water and sewage systems, utilities, etc. in many countries are out of the price system and free to the user. How many other common items could be free?

Abolition of the wage system, as the I.W.W. sees it, would profoundly change how we work and how our work affects our lives, our community, our planet. We want a society where everyone's basic mental and physical needs are automatically met - a healthy, ecologically-sound society which battles against the formation of social hierarchies.

At present the wage system creates and perpetuates a wide range of injustices, drastically narrowing the potential of what it means to be a human being. Wages are necessary only in a society of compulsion. Abolition of the wage system is a step working people every place have to take if we are ever to build a better world, rather than. just exchange one set of bureaucrats and bosses for another. 

Vancouver General Membership Branch of the IWW, 1984. 

I don't necessarily agree with every dot and comma of the following article, I do think it scores well in presenting a clear and concise exposition of a central plank of revolutionary socialist politics.

Friday, 2 May 2014

New Rough Sleepers In London Increase 12%

Life is really no cream cracker for a great many, that's the simple plan truth, and no more so than for the thousands who are homeless today in Britain, and if anything its getting worse and set to get even more worse. What if the housing bubble bursts in the next few years, what if we see a massive jump in repossessions of the family home then what? I cannot imagine what it would be like for a family if a lender was to take over ownership of a home because a mortgage or other loan secured on your home hasn't been paid.

As a homeowner, it is also possible to lose your home if:a bankruptcy order is made against you or the local council or other public body makes a compulsory purchase order to buy your home. (This usually only happens if a major local development, such as a road widening scheme, is planned.) Or in my case along came the olympics in 2012, however I was rehoused by the local council.

Repossession usually happens as a result of mortgage arrears or arrears on another secured loan taken out against a property. Arrears build up if you don't pay your mortgage or second loan in full at the times your payments are due.
Lenders should make sure that you can afford the repayments before they allow you to have a mortgage or second loan, however, most recent history has taught us that this hasn't always been the case, and of course  your circumstances can change and income may go down as a result of:redundancy or reduced hours at work, sickness, accidents and disability, divorce, separation or bereavement, pregnancy, having or adopting children.

It’s not just homeowners who are living with this constant and continuous nightmare, homelessness affects a wide variety of people, but some people may be more vulnerable to homelessness because they have particular needs. For example you may have limited housing rights or be less able to cope by yourself if you are: a young person leaving home for the first time or leaving care, an offender leaving prison. Then there are the austerity cuts and caps, the council tax, the bedroom tax, sanctions on the unemployed and the sick and the cost of living crisis that the Labour leader and others love to play a game of lip service with which has all cost many their homes. There is much more I know that could be said about this housing crisis which in my opinion has been deliberately contrived to manufacture a favorable operation for the banks and the money lenders, including Universal Credit which is replacing a number of existing social security benefits, including Housing Benefit, with a single monthly payment for each affected household. Most people will be required to apply for the new benefit online, but a new survey by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the National Housing Federation (NHF) questions whether those people will have the means or even the capacity to do so.
According to the survey four in ten (40%) affected households do not have access to the internet at all, and of the 51% who said they did have internet access 30% said they would not feel confident in making an application for Universal Credit online.

Under Universal Credit Housing Benefit will be paid directly to the claimant rather than the landlord on a monthly basis. This has led to concerns that some tenants may struggle to keep up with their rent payments because they may use that money for other purposes, such as food and heating. So it makes you wonder what we have in store for the future?

I found the following article on-line and published by the Londonist.
New Rough Sleepers In London Increase 12%

The number of people newly recorded as sleeping rough in London between January and March this year rose 12% compared to the same period in 2013.

The charity St Mungo’s Broadway, which runs the Mayor’s No Second Night Out programme, has published its latest figures for rough sleeping. During the first quarter of 2014, outreach workers identified 1,030 people sleeping on the streets for the first time, compared to 922 in January-March 2013. 72% of these people were seen just once, which compares to 83% the previous year; in 2014, 5% ended up living on the streets (3% in 2013), while 23% slept rough more than once but didn’t become permanent rough sleepers (15% in 2013).

Of rough sleepers who weren’t new, 392 were classed as living on the street (1% higher than the same period in 2013 but 8% lower than October-December 2013, but it’s worth remembering that winter generally sees the least number of people sleeping rough because of the weather) and 656 people were intermittently sleeping on the street (11% higher than last year and 19% lower than the end of 2013). We make that a total of 2,078 rough sleepers seen at the start of the year (St Mungo’s Broadway makes it 2,029 — Edit: the group of 392 includes 49 rough sleepers who were both new rough sleepers in the period, and seen rough sleeping enough to already be deemed to be living on the streets – and says that’s an 8% increase on January-March 2013).
A 12% period-on-period increase for new rough sleepers is in line with the 14% annual increase between 2011-12 and 2012-13; the overall increase in rough sleepers between 2011-12 and 2012-13 was 13%. You may remember headlines about a rise of 43% between 2010-11 and 2011-12; we’ve previously written that part of that rise was down to more efficient ways of recording rough sleepers. In effect, what that rise was doing was recording for the first time some people who’d previously fallen under the radar. With this new data, it looks like rough sleeping in London is increasing at a rate of about 10%.

We also shouldn’t forget the hidden issue of people who are homeless but in temporary accommodation – 42,430 households in London by the end of 2013, an increase of 9% over 2012. Does anything highlight this city’s growing inequality better than these figures?

the Londonist

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Britain's youngest workers have suffered an unprecedented fall in real wages

A report by the National Institute of Economic & Social Research show that Britain's youngest workers have suffered an unprecedented fall in real wages since 2008. For those under 25, pay was down more than 14% and at levels last seen 16 years ago, in 1998. For workers aged 25-29, real weekly wages, adjusted for inflation, were down 12% at 1999 levels, according to the think tank. Real weekly wages overall have fallen by about 8% since 2008, equivalent to a fall in annual earnings of about £2,000 for a typical worker in Britain.

The number of workers on zero-hours contracts has almost tripled to 1.4 million since last year's estimate, according to official data. More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The survey showed half of all workers in the tourism, catering and food sector have no guarantees of work. Retail and the care industry are also big users of zero-hours deals. Zero-hours contracts were found in the survey to be relatively rare among workers in the financial and professional services.

Critics of zero-hours contracts have argued that, far from being a response of employers to the financial crash, they signal a more fundamental shift to casual employment, especially in the public sector. The care industry employs more than 160,000 staff on zero-hours contracts, while hospitals have switched in the past two years to insisting that large numbers of workers, including anaesthetists and radiologists, are grouped in "banks" from which they bid to fill upcoming rotas.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said zero-hours contracts were only one element of a national issue of poverty among people who have jobs. Katie Schmuecker, policy and research manager at the foundation, said: "Zero-hours contracts are just one aspect of the UK's problem with in-work poverty. We have workers unable to get enough hours to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, and not being offered training and development by their employer, leaving them stuck in dead-end jobs.”

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC said: "Insecure work with no guarantee of regular paid hours is no longer confined to the fringes of the jobs market. It is worrying that so many young people are trapped on zero-hours contracts, which can hold back their careers and make it harder to pay off debts like student loans. The fact that these contracts have become the norm in tourism, catering and food will be a major concern for the millions of people employed in these industries."

British workers are being urged to join in with huge, unregulated global workforces such as China's and become part of a race to the bottom of wage-slavery.

The long-term unemployed (one in 30 claimants, who have been out of work for more than three years),  will now have to attend a jobcentre every day or commit to six months of voluntary work or a training scheme, or payments will be stopped. This is called Help to Work.  It doesn't help. It won't work. Many leading charities such as Oxfam are boycotting mandatory work placements because they think the key word in voluntary work is voluntary. This is much the same as if you were sentenced as a convicted criminal to community service. Cameron said this week: "The day of giving people benefit cheques and not asking for anything in return – those days are gone." Forcing people to work for free will push people into "proper" work, he reckons. Osborne has a  fantasy of full employment.

Jobcentre facilities and staff won’t be able to cope. The government's own research indicates that unpaid work placements are not increasing the chances of claimants finding work. As Guardian writer Suzanne Moore asks “ What, pray, will happen when jobseeker's allowance is docked because someone falls foul of the rules? If you stop their £72 a week, what then? Do they not eat? Does some other agency step in? How much will that cost? Do we have no politicians who will denounce this wickedness?”

The Biscuit Fund: an indictment of David Cameron’s premiership

Four years into David Cameron’s premiership and with one more whole year still to go before an election in this fixed term parliament there is still no sign of a coalition collapse, it also appears that the government’s neglect of the poor is seriously beginning to take its toll. Reports published by the Trussell Trust clearly show that the use of food banks has risen by a staggering 163 percent in the last year alone and with no sign of a halt. But how have we allowed this absurd situation to develop is a pondering question I often contemplate.  

Thousands of children in Britain are dying prematurely because of a growing gap between rich and poor, according to new research.

A wealth gap, combined with a lack of targeted health policies to tackle child mortality, means Britain lags behind its Western European counterparts, a study from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) shows.

Every year, an estimated 2,000 additional children – equivalent to five a day – die in the UK compared to the best performing country, Sweden.

And so, the recent reports have left many of us asking ‘How can one of the world’s largest economies allow for such failure?’ The provision of food after all is above all else one of the most basic of human needs, along with shelter, water and air. Therefore, for a situation to arise where almost one million UK citizens are too poor to even feed themselves is a real humanitarian travesty and a crime of this government, and one which needs to be sorted urgently, requiring immediate action and attention. But will it ever get that attention is another question I often ask myself?

I don’t know what people think of charities, my own feelings are that in a sane and compassionate society we would not have any need for them, however, this is not a sane compassionate society made worse by the austerity policies of Cameron’s administration, and what really amounts to attacks on the poorest sections of our society.  The problem is that everyone is aware of the bitter irony of everything that Cameron stands for: remember his attacks on Jimmy Carr for tax avoidance when we all know his Dad (Cameron’s) made a career of doing precisely that, he and his mates attack the feckless poor when he himself is a shining example of the feckless rich, attacks the socially vulnerable not knowing the first thing about the reality of vulnerability (and never will thanks to his inherited wealth). The man is a sick joke.

A couple of days ago I came across an interesting and must say very moving story in the Daily Mirror, so moved by the story I have decided to reproduce it on this blog as it stands as an indictment and serves to illustrate all which is so bad now that it deserves to be condemned.

The Biscuit Fund: The band of secret strangers giving crumbs of comfort to needy

In February, the police issued photographs of two elderly women who had been brutally attacked and then robbed in their homes in Bristol and Rotherham. A few days later, both women received an anonymous letter.

“We wanted to write to you with a small donation,” the letter said. “Although there are bad apples out there, there are many whose hearts have been touched by your ordeal.”

It was signed: “Please accept our love, thoughts and very best wishes. The Biscuit Fund.”
Last July, John, an unemployed man, sat with his severely ill son 90 miles from home while the boy waited for an operation.

John failed to make his appointment at the Jobcentre and was sanctioned. At the hospital, as weeks passed, John ran out of funds at his boy’s bedside, and stopped eating.
One night, he posted how desperately hungry he was on Facebook. The next day, he received a mysterious message.

“Dear John, we would like to send you some money for food. It’s a gift – with love, The Biscuit Fund.”

Sarah, a mum of three and carer for a disabled child, had missed meals for months and was living on foodbank handouts when she received a supermarket delivery. “Here is food to fill your cupboards,” a note said. “From The Biscuit Fund.”

Philanthropy is often associated with millionaires. The Biscuit Fund is an anonymous army of around 50 ­volunteers who are mainly on low incomes – and have mostly met only through social media.

Many have disabilities and mental health issues, many are themselves going through tough times, all are dedicated to helping people in crisis with what small amounts they can spare.
They call themselves The Biscuit Fund because of the amount spent by ministers on biscuits. Last year, health ministers alone spent £100,000 on tea and biscuits in six months while savaging the NHS with cuts.

A few weeks ago, The Biscuit Fund wrote to me to ask whether they could help someone who had been in the Real Britain column. I asked them to meet me without disclosing their identities.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself waiting by a London Tube station. Two people calling themselves Jemima and Gerald emerged from the escalator. We sat in a cafe in the nearby market.

“In 2011,” Jemima says, “I began noticing people weren’t putting the usual pictures of their dinner and kids on Facebook. Lots of people were posting about how they were struggling.”
Jemima, 34, has fibromyalgia, ME and depression, and lives on basic disability benefits with two children. She is part of several online groups that post about disability and benefits, and having to fight ATOS assessments.

“One day, I saw a desperate post saying, ‘My fridge-freezer has broken and I can’t possibly afford a new one. We’ve lost all the food in our fridge and have nothing to eat’.
“I posted to say, ‘There’s a woman in real trouble here, could anyone spare £10?’ and 20 people said yes. There was such a big response, I ended up sending her £270 for a new fridge.
“I started to realise this was something we could do.”

A year later, the group is a registered charity with 48 agents in places including London, Oxford, Wiltshire, Newcastle, Scotland and Cornwall.

The Biscuit Fund doesn’t receive applications. Agents watch social and traditional media, scouring Facebook and local papers. They agree by majority vote who they are going to help.
“There are no admin costs,” says Gerald, 42. “Every penny goes to people who need it.”
They have prevented suicides, and restored people’s faith in human nature. So far around 100 people have been helped with around £10,000 – some just with £10 to put the electricity back on.
Others include a deposit on a flat for a heavily pregnant woman escaping an abusive partner.
Even though the money is a gift not a loan, some people have paid their money back, or gone on to use the money to help others in need.

Isn’t this David Cameron’s Big Society in action? Jemima and Gerald laugh.“It’s Coalition policies that are pushing people into poverty,” Jemima says.

If anything, The Biscuit Fund represents the small society – modest acts of kindness from neighbour to neighbour, based entirely on trust. A modern-day band of Robin Hoods – they save from their own pockets to help and empower the very poorest.

The fund is a powerful foil to the welfare reform rhetoric of scroungers and skivers.
“When you don’t have money, money is the most important thing in the world,” Jemima says. “You are so powerless and so helpless. But it’s not just about the money, it’s about giving people hope.

“Some of the people we have helped have been so poor they have literally been sitting at home with a bottle of pills in their hand thinking, ‘I can’t do this any more’. We’ve given them the breathing space to fight again.”

Gerald is a graphic designer, a Biscuit Fund agent and Jemima’s partner. One day, Jemima had confided in him that her own boiler was broken but that she didn’t want to ask the fund for help. He sent her the £250 to fix it.
She cooked him a meal to say thank you. “The rest is history,” Jemima says.
Philanthropy is often associated with millionaires, but really it’s just Greek for “Love of Humanity”. Which makes The Biscuit Fund about the purest philanthropy around.

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