Archive for the tag 'politics'

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?

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.

Of Tories and t-shirts

NS May 11th, 2010

If you haven’t already heard, the Tories are in. David Cameron managed to convince Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to sell their souls to the devil and form a coalition with the Conservatives.

I think we all know how I feel about that.

I made an offhand comment on Twitter tonight, in which I said, “Making a t-shirt: I voted Lib Dem and all I got was this lousy Tory government.” People seemed to like this idea so I thought hell, I’ll actually make a t-shirt. With Noble Husband’s graphic design skills, we put a little something together for all of the other Lib Dem voters who feel betrayed and disappointed with this new ‘coalition’ government.

Get yours here and wear it proudly angrily. And don’t say I never made you anything.

Vote. Because I can’t.

NS May 6th, 2010

I haven’t ponied up the £800 needed to become a British citizen yet (things are a bit tight after I quit my job to become an at-home parent to my own two British citizens — cough) and so I will not be voting today because I’m not allowed. I sent off my husband’s postal ballot last week so at least I know he was able to exercise that right since he’s away on a business trip right now. All I can do now is watch, wait and hope that the British people don’t let the Conservatives back in. If you’re still on the fence about who to vote for, read this and this and particularly this. A little excerpt:

The Fawcett Society have today released the results of a survey of parliamentary candidates, including the party leaders,  asking whether they would support action on women’s inequality in their constituencies and nationally (1)

Of the 3 major parties 23.1 per cent of Labour candidates and 19.9 per cent of Lib Dems and 2.6 per cent of the Conservatives committed their support. (2)

Candidates were asked to say yes or no to whether they would support local and national action on tackling the gender pay gap, improving support for women rape victims and assessing the impact of deficit cutting proposals on women. Both Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg are amongst those candidates that answered yes to all three questions. David Cameron responded with the Tories policy position in the relevant areas ( 3)

The figures aren’t great for any of the parties but 2.6 per-fucking-cent?! You’ve got to be kidding me. As the Fawcett Society report notes, the support they were asked to commit was for pretty uncontroversial things like support for rape victims and equal pay. If the Tories aren’t even willing to come out in support of that, what else will we find they don’t support? I fear know that a Conservative government will roll back at least some of the gains we’ve made in the last decade and prevent gender equality from progressing any further.

If you care about women, children, education, the arts, community, health, the poor, the disadvantaged, the downtrodden and the vulnerable, remember whose interests the Tories really serve (rhymes with ‘schmorforations’) and the 97.4 per cent of them who refuse to support even such basic rights for women like rape crisis centres and pay audits to address the unconscionable epidemic of the gender pay gap (which is really a mother pay gap).

Come on, Britain. Speak up for those who, like me, have no voice and no choice in this election.  I am a proud, tax-paying immigrant. I am a woman who demands equality. I am a mother deserving of support and recognition as I help raise the next generation of British workers and pension contributors. I am a feminist who will always be there, breathing down the necks of those who cling to the last vestiges of white, male, Christian hegemony.

I may not be officially British, but I am Britain. I dare the Conservatives to tell me otherwise.

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