Archive for the 'In The News' Category

Socialism and social responsibility

NS October 5th, 2010

I am proud to live in a country where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has access to a free-at-point-of-use health care system.

I am proud to live in a country where socialism or socialist-leaning systems are not looked upon with fear, disgust and horror, like they are in my home country.

I am proud to live in a country where many women (though not all) have the opportunity to stay at home with their children for up to a year and not lose their jobs as a result.

That’s not to say that everyone who lives here likes these things or approves of how they are set up or run, but overall, the majority are happy to live in a state where (in theory, anyway) everyone is looked after. It’s never been nor will it ever be a perfect system — some people will always be looked over and given appalling care while others revel in and are rewarded for their riches and privileges, while yet others milk the system to their advantage — but at least that safety net is there, even if it’s got holes in it.

I’m bringing all of this up because the media and the parent blogs are alight this week with talk of the proposed axing of child benefit from homes where any person earning a salary of more than £44,000 per year resides. At first glance it seems fair. Earning more than £44k should not put a family in hardship, surely they don’t need the extra cash, right? After all, that’s double the average national wage!

Two things not take into consideration with this proposal (or, if they have been taken into account, discounted as not important) are cost of living in different areas of the country and single income families earning above the £44k cut-off. How exactly is it fair to say that a family living on £42,000 in the very expensive London or the South East should be on level pegging with a family in, say, Grimsby, where the cost of living is much lower?

The second and more infuriating problem with this proposal is the fact that it completely discounts single income families with children to support. And who makes up the vast proportion of single income families with children to support? Single mothers and at-home parents (usually mums) whose spouses or partners work full time.

Put more plainly, child benefit will remain for families where one or both parents work but each earn less than £44k. Dual income families who earn, say, £30k and £40k respectively (for a combined income of £70k), will keep their child benefit while the single parent earning £45k won’t.

Now, I realise that there aren’t perhaps all that many single mums and dads earning more than £44k a year, but it still doesn’t seem fair that those who earn a good but certainly not extravagant salary may not receive child benefit when a family earning nearly double that will. Because let’s not forget that a single working parent usually pays the largest proportion of their income to childcare than any other family since they have to pay for someone to look after their children not only during the work/school days but also at evenings and weekends if they need or want to go out without the children.

Also significantly affected will be families where one parent is staying at home to look after the children and their partner earns more than the proposed cut-off point of £44k. A family of four or five (or more) living on less than £50k in London is not all that much. It may sound like a lot but after you take out tax, travel, housing, living expenses, food, etc.. for all members of the family, it really doesn’t leave you with much. I know because we were that family until very recently,when my husband got a promotion and a pay rise and I began pulling in a bit more money with my self-employed endeavours. Until then, we lived paycheque to paycheque and were unable to save or invest a single penny. Even now there are months when an unexpected car repair or a growth spurt requiring new clothes and shoes for one of the children can put a real strain on our finances. Child benefit has saved the day more times than I can count and I have truly appreciated it over the years.

Essentially, this proposal penalises single mums (and dads) and families where only one parent works while the other stays at home with the children. But does that come as any real surprise to those who voted for a Tory government? I could’ve told you before this cut was announced that large swathes of the working class and the struggling middle class would be most affected, a disproportionate number of whom are women.

However, I can understand that cuts have to be made somewhere and that it is a bit ludicrous when extremely high earners are receiving a not-insignificant sum of money each month simply for having a child or children. I agree that those earning six figures (or quite near it) do not need child benefit, but £44k?  I don’t think that salary, particularly in the South East, is extravagant for people who have dependants.

The thing is, it’s impossible to put a number on need. You can’t possibly know each family’s circumstances and whether the loss of this benefit would actually hurt them or not affect them at all. That’s why I think it’s perhaps counter-productive to take away the right to this benefit (at least at the proposed level). I have a better idea.

Any psychologist or sociologist worth her salt will tell you that people respond better to rewards than they do to threats. Hell, any parent of a young child or pet owner can tell you that! So maybe instead of taking away a benefit from a group of people that may or may not desperately need it, we start with the ones who most definitely don’t.

Why don’t we stop child benefit for those earning high five or six figures or more and invest that money into a social program wherein those who fall in the ‘questionable’ range of £40-80k (this is a ballpark figure and would depend on location, family size and personal circumstances) are awarded child benefit but have the opportunity to voluntarily rescind the award in return for points in a ‘social responsibility bank account’ of sorts.

Each time a person or family does something socially responsible (such as install solar panels,  grow their own veg, care for children, volunteer at a non-profit or community organisation, quit smoking, reduce water consumption, provide a safe place for teens to gather and socialise, voluntarily give up a state benefit they no longer need, or any other activity that is deemed beneficial to the greater good), they would receive points in their account. After a certain number had been collected, these points could be redeemed for the purchase of items and services.  These items and services would be partially funded by the state (generated by the funds no longer outgoing in child benefit to top earners) and partially donated by private, ethical businesses  in return for free advertising, priceless PR and the feel-good factor of being involved in such a project.

I’m aware that this is a simplistic, idealistic plan and I’m sure someone will be along to tell me why it would never work ‘in the real world’, but it’s the kind of thing I wish the government was thinking up instead of the same ol’ tax and spend loop that we’ve been stuck in for decades, with everyone getting screwed somewhere along the way.

What do you think about the proposed cuts to child benefit? Do you have any ideas for how we can get this country out of its financial mess without shafting the hardest working and most disadvantaged?

Women-only events: sexist or sensible?

NS September 22nd, 2010

News that a handful of men are entering (and often winning) races and marathons put on mainly for women has created a bit of a stir. Are these guys douchebags who enjoy exerting their superior physical capabilities over The Ladiez, ruining the spirit of the event, or is it unfair for these races to be exclusively aimed at  only one gender in the first place?

Some people like to trot out the familiar argument that if women want equality with men, it has to be enforced in all areas. No female-only gyms, no ladies’ night drink specials, no women-only events or groups. Some go a step further and say that women shouldn’t expect separate toilets, exclusion from the military draft or even be eligible for maternity leave. You need to pee or have a baby? Well boo frickin’ hoo, you wanted to be just like the big boys and you GOT it, ladies.

This, of course, is called being a giant JERK.

The thing about this argument is that it assumes that women who fight for their rights think that men and women are exactly the same, with no biological deviances or differing practical needs. It’s also more than a little patronising. Men (and some women) often use this argument to try to ‘trap’ feminists into reneging on their arguments for equality. Much like the groups of white people who cry ‘Reverse racism!’ when minority groups put together an event celebrating their heritage or form a group exclusively for those within that minority group, there seems to be a wilful ignorance and refusal to acknowledge historical power structures in these protestations.

Reverse racism against whites is impossible because minority groups lack  the political or societal power to enforce their alleged biases. In the same vein, women as a whole lack the amassed authority required to actively oppress men and deny them their basic rights based on gender. So when someone cries ‘Reverse racism! Female sexism against men!’ they mostly need to be told to stick a boot in it.

On the other hand, I can see how the ‘women only’ thing can seem a bit unfair at times, especially if it has nothing to do with physical strength or biological differences (unlike sporting events and having babies). I’m no fan of ladies’ nights, when women get into bars and nightclubs free of charge while men pay full cover. That’s very unfair and also pretty gross since the only reason establishments do this is so that there’s more tits and asses in the bar for the men to ogle. It degrades both men and women.

Even if female-only races are, at their core, unequal, I still think that entering a race full of women just so you can win is pretty tacky and mean-spirited. Not only does it prevent a woman from garnering that top glory (since she is very unlikely to win an event that includes both sexes), it can take the sheen off that ‘we’re in this doing it together, girls!’ camaraderie that events like these can help foster.

What do you think? Would you be upset if a man entered a women’s running event for the sole purpose of winning, or do you think it’s his prerogative?

Photo credit

Cunning linkage

NS September 17th, 2010

Don’t try saying that three times fast.

So here’s what’s been on my mind:

– My oh-so-dreamy, clever boyfriend, Stephen Fry. I love him more and more each time I read something by or about him. And today he won me over once again with the gleeful revelation that he enjoys being hated by the Daily Mail. This line in particular* caught my attention: “I don’t read it of course: like anyone of education or sense or moral decency I wouldn’t have such a purulent creepy production in the house.”

If Stephen ever decides he’d like a baby with his partner and needs to find a womb pod, I’d volunteer mine for free. Anyone who is that hated by the Daily Mail is a hero in my book. I think we all know how much I despise that rag.

– Jonathan Franzen (of The Corrections fame) has apparently kissed and made up with Oprah after their ‘spat’ nine years ago. In a nutshell, Franzen dismissed Oprah’s Book Club as “schmaltzy” and “one-dimensional” and expressed concerns that male readers would be alienated by the Book Club logo because they associate it with ‘chick lit’.

Now, while I can understand Franzen’s reservations about his novel appearing on such a mainstream book list and think his point about reaching male readers is important (women read far more fiction than men), I still bristle at the idea that because it was mainly women buying Oprah’s suggested books that this meant said books would be taken less seriously. The message seemed to be that either a) female readers are not a desirable fan base, b) a book club by and for women is mainly about light, summer reads and not ‘serious’ fiction, i.e. it is all ‘chick lit’, or c) men being turned off from reading a novel based on a sticker on its cover from a (mainly) women’s book club is a problem with the book club itself, not the men’s (or at least the macho cultural idea that a book promoted by women is less-than and inferior to ones widely read by men).

I’m sure purist book snobs will disagree, but I’m glad to see that he’s embracing the publicity and welcoming the legions of readers he will gain from Oprah’s endorsement. Even though I don’t personally watch or even like her show, I do have a lot of respect for some of the things she’s been able to accomplish, the Book Club among them. Anyone who can get people reading deserves praise and kudos as far as I’m concerned.

– Only one newspaper out of the top 50 in the US had any mention of the winners of last night’s WNBA championship on the front page, and that was in the winning team’s home town. Sigh. Women’s sports and respect…that’s a thin leaflet.

– I’m disappointed that an op-ed on closing the wage gap in the Washington Post today by Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, did not mention the words mothers, maternity or parent(ing) once. Are there really still people who don’t realise that the gender pay gap is mainly a mothers‘ pay gap?

– The pointy-hatted one is here. Yawn.

Finally, this, which I can’t stop watching and listening to, even if I am more than a little jealous of how fabulous this woman looks throughout her pregnancy. Catchy little ditty though!

Magic- A Belly Grows from The Panic Room Videos on Vimeo.

Enjoy your weekend, folks.

*hat tip to NH

7/7: Five years on

NS July 7th, 2010

I’m a little surprised that I haven’t read more about this in papers and on blogs today.

It’s been five years since bombs tore through London’s Underground and on a single bus, killing 52 innocent people and injuring 700 more. It also marks five years since London became ingrained into every little nook and cranny of my soul and confirmed my love for and devotion to this city.

I’ve told the story before of where I was that day and what kind of emotional impact it had and continues to have on me. So I won’t tell it again. But I will never forget.

To the families of those killed on 7 July 2005, and those living with the scars and pain left behind, know you are in my thoughts and my heart today, and always.

Digging my burrow of oblivion for self-survival

NS June 17th, 2010

It’s just hit me, sitting here in a coffee shop, why I might be feeling so fed up with blogging. It’s not because I have nothing left to say or don’t have the desire to write any more (because I obviously do –this post is proof!), or because the things I’ve become involved with lately are superior to blogging, or more fulfilling. It’s that I’ve always associated writing with changing the world, making it a better, fairer place with just a little less hate, violence, ignorance, prejudice and oppression. My writing has always gone hand-in-hand with my passion for social justice and one always influences the other.

The thing is, it’s only become clear to me lately that perhaps I will never be able to change anyone’s mind, that all of the hurt and anger and sadness I internalise when I read about all the horrific, ugly things in this world (and particularly our violent, patriarchal culture) is affecting my own happiness and well-being. It’s also been very difficult for me to admit that being part of the media may actually be contributing to many of these problems and that my idea that I would be different, I would get to write about the really important things, that I would convince my editor (in my mythical journalism job) to let me write authentically, honestly and without the influence of advertising, corporate interests and sales figures was the stuff of youthful naivety and arrogance.

And then what about my activism? If I couldn’t make it as a journalist I wanted to be the fiercest of advocates for those most deeply oppressed and wounded by man’s ills. I would march, stomp, kick, scream, campaign, shout and never, ever give up. But even then, I couldn’t find a way in. As a mother with two small children and limited income, I couldn’t get involved on anything other than a token level. Even jobs at non-profits and advocacy groups are fiercely competitive and hard to come by. Just because you have the passion doesn’t mean you have the right CV or connections or opportunities.

My once-ruthless appetite for news and politics has suddenly waned. I’d been a political bulimic – stuffing myself with as much information and indignation as possible until I felt I would explode and then regurgitated some piece or another, via a ranty blog post, to relieve the pressure. But then I slammed on the brakes, went from 60mph to 0 in no time flat. At first I thought it was election overload and that once that hopeless ‘coalition’ was in power I’d resignedly acquiesce and take up the mantle once again. I starved myself of news completely (now a political anorexic) and hoped that would do the trick.

Today, right now, I bought a newspaper for the first time in several weeks and sat down to read it. I actually felt apprehensive, nervous. I told myself I was being ridiculous and squared my shoulders as I nibbled my muffin and sipped my latte (a lefty if ever there was one) and examined the front page. I took a deep breath and started reading the cover story. First paragraph — ethic cleansing and systemic rape in Uzbekistan. The reporter didn’t just use those words though, oh no. He told us how a woman was questioned, bound, raped and then had all her fingers cut off before being killed alongside her small son. So far removed from the horrific reality of this atrocious act, the reporter was able to open with this, to draw us in for more-more-more.

Immediately tears sprang to my eyes and the familiar feeling of helplessness and anger bubbled up. But this time I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t force myself to do anything more than put my plate over the offending words — the gratuitous, sensationalist words — and bow my head as the tears slipped down the tip of my nose and onto the photograph of fleeing women and children, their terrified faces blurred and smudged by the drops falling on the ink.

This emotional frailty and feeling of helplessness is a strange, foreign thing to me and in marked contrast to when I’m running at 6.30 in the morning, along a gravel path where horses graze and then around a sun-soaked playing field where the grass glistens with dew. There, I feel powerful and free. I have air in my lungs, no thoughts in my head and it is just me, my feet, music in my ears and the early-morning creatures. Today I ran past a family of hedgehogs making their way slowly back to the wooded area beyond the path.

When I get back I check my phone to see if my client, the one belly-heavy with new life, needs me yet. Knowing I am going to witness something beautiful and wondrous and thrilling soon humbles me. I feel content, like this is what I was meant to do all along. For the first time in a long time I’m making things happen, not waiting around.

So, in the interest of self-survival, I need to believe, at least for a little while, that life is precious and wonderful and equal and free. I need to believe that the baby getting ready to make her entrance is not going to grow up in  a world mired in oil, marred by violence and folding in on itself. I need to pretend that she won’t grow up being told to be pretty and ‘nice’ above all else, that caring for her partner and children are all that matters, that her ability to make intensely personal decisions about her body, health, family, career and happiness are at the mercy of the two behemoths of moral proselytising; Church and State.

For just one moment, in the golden, glorious dawn of summer, I need respite. I will put my faith only in what I have control over and submit, for a spell, to what I don’t. I will strive once more to see the beauty and innocence and humanity on this planet.

Because if I can’t, even after trying, I’ll know I truly have nothing left to say.

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