Monthly Archives: March 2014

Oxfam condemns government for increasing income inequality

Radio package created for Vox Radio (Featured by AudioBoo)

The government need to do more to curb rising income inequality across the UK, according to a new report published by Oxfam last week.

The charity condemned the government for cutting services for the poor, calling for an increase in progressive tax rates and a clamp down on offshore tax havens used by the rich elite.

Today, the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the bottom 20 per cent of the entire population.

“There is global recognition that inequality is undermining our ability to achieve the social and environmental goals we want to accomplish,” said Faiza Shaheen, senior researcher at the new economics foundation.

The think tank argues that we should tackle inequality at a grassroots level, and calls for more to be done at an earlier stage to ensure people are paid a fair wage.

Adam Memon, head of economic research at Central Policy Research said the solution is not taxing the rich more.

“The vast majority of people, whether you’re on the right or left wing, want to reduce income inequality – It’s clearly a bad thing.

“If we’re looking to reduce income inequality it’s far more important to reduce the tax burden on those with lower incomes,” he added.

Last month, a study by TUC showed that in the last three years the gap between the top 10% and bottom 10% of earners in London rose by almost 5%.

In the last two decades the richest 0.1% has seen their income grow by more than £24,000 a year across the UK.

In comparison, the bottom 90 per cent experienced a real terms increase of less than £150 a year.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This growing pay gap is bad news for our economy and bad news for living standards.

“The picture is particularly bleak in London and the South East, but in areas like the Midlands, the North West and the East of England, a significant gulf has developed between top and bottom earners.

“Unless this trend stops now and more high-skilled jobs with decent pay are created, this worrying pattern is likely to become even more entrenched.”

London: Heated debate over social housing shortfall

A heated debate took place during the Mayors Question time at City Hall over the number of affordable homes being built across London.

Responding to a question asked by London Assembly Member Tom Copley, Mayor of London Boris Johnson claimed that he was doing more than previous governments to tackle the shortfall in affordable homes.

He said: “We are finally showing the guts and determination to get homes built across London in huge numbers.”

Boris claimed that during his first term the number of affordable homes has increased by 11,000 on average, compared to a 15,000 decrease under previous Labour Mayor Ken Livingston.

He also outlined plans to increase spending on social housing by £1.25 billion, promising to deliver over 100,000 homes in the next eight years.

However, Tom criticised the mayor’s statistics, citing GLA’s monitoring figures which show Labour councils have built twice as many affordable homes than the average Tory council since the last set of local elections in 2010.

“I sometimes think you hallucinate the figures” he said.

“Why are Tory boroughs performing so badly?”

In total, there were less than 50 affordable homes built in Tory controlled Kensington & Chelsea over the past four years, nearly twenty times less than the amount built in Labour controlled Southwark.

“In the league table of social houses delivered over the last four years, 9 out of the top 10 boroughs are Labour,” he added.

Conservative Assembly Member Richard Stacey, representing Wandsworth, was quick to point out his boroughs plan to build 1000 new affordable homes.

However, according to figures from the GLA, there have been less than 500 affordable homes built by the borough during the past three years.

In comparison, Labour run boroughs in Hackney have built more than three times as many affordable homes over the same time period.

Boris said: “The figures I’ve seen show huge numbers of affordable homes being built across London by all boroughs.

“Some people need to do more and we’re on their case.”

Conservative London Assembly Member Andrew Boff was concerned with the effect of a proposed cap on the sale of council houses by Labour.

Currently, the money raised in the sale of a council home is used to invest in new housing developments.

But critics argue that the Right-to-buy leads to privatisation of homes built especially for those on the lowest incomes, which are then put on the market to rent at full price.

This can lead to the gentrification of traditionally working class areas.

Writing for The Guardian, social affairs journalist Hannah Fearn said we must recognise “the need to retain homes as a local asset rather than letting them slip from grasp.

“Right-to-buy was designed for the 1980s, for the boom years; in bust we need something new, something flexible and something designed locally.”

The next Mayor’s Question Time is set to take place on Wednesday 11 June, and is open to the public.

Questions are published a week before the meeting on the GLA’s website.

RIP Tony Benn, one of Britain’s greatest socialist

Graphic made by me. Source

Graphic made by me. Feel free to use. Original

Almost a decade ago, when I was a young and ignorant 16-year-old, my economics teacher took me along with my class on a trip to hear Tony Benn speak. It was only in hindsight that I realise what she was attempting to teach us that day. After a cheeky-touch of Dutch courage during the intermission, I plucked up the nerve to ask him a question. While I no longer remember what I asked him, or what the proceeding answer was, it was an experience that has profoundly changed my life – an important link in a chain of events that has lead me to become an activist and a writer today. I went home that evening, and being inspired by what I had heard, began my exploration of the socialist ideals that had been the basis of Benn’s political and philosophical outlook for over six decades.

So it is of no surprise then that his passing should bring me, along with many millions in this great country, a deep sense of sorrow and mourning. Tony Benn was a man like any other – his life was a journey that took him from the warm bosom of middle class England to a staunch defender of the most marginalised in our society, and indeed, the world all-over. Deeply sceptical of government, war, capable of profound insight and courage, he was often at odds with people within his own party.

Speaking last year to the BBC, he said: “I am an example of someone who moved to the left as I got older. I have known many people who were very left-wing when they were young who ended up as Conservatives. But the experience of government made me realise that Labour was not engaged, as it said it was, in changing society but to make people change to get used to the society we had.”

Indeed, Benn was a devout proponent of the rights of the working class, democracy, and the socialist ideals that many in our country have now grown to treat with contempt. He wrote and lectured extensively on the topic, ranging from publishing diaries such as “Arguments for Socialism (1979)”, or his book entitled “Free Radical: New Century Essays”, a collection of his column’s for the Daily Star. He was never afraid to speak out against injustice, voicing his concern on issues such as civil liberties, corruption and the problems with the system of governance that presides over our nation.

In 1988 he wrote in his diaries: “…the UK is only superficially governed by MPs and the voters who elect them. Parliamentary democracy is, in truth, little more than a means of securing a periodical change in the management team, which is then allowed to preside over a system that remains in essence intact.”

Tony Benn: 'It's questionable whether we have a democracy'

Benn was also very critical of the press, comparing the mainstream media to the the power of the medieval Church, which “ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of the view of those who enjoy economic privilege.” In one video dating back to 2009, Tony Benn defied the BBC’s sickening impotence during the crisis in Gaza at the time, repeatedly giving details of the DEC appeal himself during a live interview.

Watch Tony Benn’s lecture, “The Media and the Political Process”, to find out more about the power of the media  over politics and public understanding, spanning over five centuries.

Inaugural Tony Benn Lecture Bristol 2006 – The Media and the Political Process

Coupled with the recent loss of trade unionist Bob Crow, this has truly been a devastating week for the left in Britain. In a world where the ideological divide between the two major parties appears to be only superficial at best, it seems now more than ever we need decisive figures like Benn and Crow to inspire a new generation of left wing flag bearers.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2006, Tony said: “Mrs Thatcher was asked what was her greatest achievement, and she said New Labour, and I think she’s right.  The PM said when he became leader of the labour party New Labour is a new political party. Well I’m not a member of it, I’ve never had anything to do with it.

“For the first time in my life, the public are to the left of what is called the Labour government. They don’t want war, they don’t want privatisation, they don’t want pensioners on a means test, they don’t want students saddled with debt. And so far from feeling isolated, the public are in favour of many things the left have advocated.”

In 1929, CLR James, a famous socialist in his own right, wrote that while socialism “is to be attained by the will and energy of men, it will not be attained how and when men please. It is neither pious hope nor moral aspiration, but a new form of society which will arise for one reason and one only, the unavoidable decay of the old.”

And all around us this decay is taking place – riots sparked by increasing discontent with government corruption, the impotence of the main stream media, rocketing food prices and energy bills, a growing divide between the rich elite and the global poor – we no longer live in a world run in the interests of the majority. In fact, we never truly did. As long as the rights of men and women are eroded for the benefit of a few, the world will never know peace. And I hope that does not stir up feelings of apathy in you dear reader. But just in case it does, I leave you with this quote from our fallen comrade.

“It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you. I think it’s all about campaigning for justice and peace, and if you do that, you get a lot of support.”

Rest in peace Tony Benn, may your legacy live on for many years to come.

*Note: Title changed to include “one of” at reader request.

Malaria scales new heights

Originally published on the Giving What We Can blog

Researchers have warned that future climate warming could lead to an increase in malaria cases, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Malaria

Last week, scientists from the University of Michigan and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published strong evidence linking increases in temperature with the movement of malaria to higher altitudes, areas which have normally been safe from the disease.

According to the papers extract: “The impact of global warming on insect-borne diseases and on highland malaria in particular remains controversial.

“We provide evidence for an increase in the altitude of malaria distribution in warmer years, which implies that climate change will, without mitigation, result in an increase of the malaria burden in the densely populated highlands.”

The study found that when temperatures increase, mosquitos infected with the Plasmodium parasite which cause the disease, are able to move to colder areas, where normally the lower temperatures would slow down both the mosquito and the development of the parasite within it.

As mosquitos are able to move outside the “malaria belt” due to global warming, densely populated regions of South America and Africa would be left vulnerable to a malaria epidemic.

Using records spanning over 15 years from the highland regions of Ethiopia and Cambodia, the scientists predicated a three million increase in annual cases if the temperature were to rise by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect,” said Mercedes Pascual, a disease ecologist at Michigan and one of authors of the Science paper. “Our findings here underscore the size of the problem and emphasize the need for sustained intervention efforts in these regions, especially in Africa.”

Review: Rosie Wilby’s “Is Monogamy Dead”

Originally published on PinkNews.co.uk

Rosie-Willby

Is Monogamy dead? Wounded, certainly, according to one Peckham based sex researcher. Rosie Wilby, musician and journalist turned comedian, performed a thought-provoking set at the Canada Water Culture Space last Friday as part of LGBT history month. Using somewhat scientific diagrams, surveys, and a whole lot of jokes, we explore the concept of relationships, breakups, and alternate interpretations of sexual identity.

The notion of a polygamous household is certainly not new, but our more typical connotation of these kinds of relationships tends to be quite negative. However, what is often missed with this generalisation is the consensual, open relationships that are more common within the LGBT community called polyamory. Rosie, having been inspired by a conversation with friends, decided the explore the idea in her new show, “Is Monogamy Dead”.

She said: “My friends all broke up from long term relationships and in many of those cases it was down to some kind of infidelity. I just thought it was a waste that all these long term relationships were breaking down. I started to wonder if there were better alternatives.”

After the success of her previous routine, The Science of Sex, a spoof lecture on sexuality, Rosie was well primed for this intriguing and sceptical look at the serial monogamist.

From giant lesbians to teeny tiny gay men, Rosie explores the reality of life as an openly gay Londoner, with lively humour and enthusiastic story telling. She pays particular attention to the differences between the sexes, comparing the life of gay women to their male counterparts. Are lesbians trying too hard to be monogamous? Is that what is leading to infidelity, and ultimately, catastrophic breakup?

“We are a relatively disenfranchised group,” she said. “You do get sexism and homophobia which means Lesbians are clinging to monogamy even more.”

Rosie uses her own sometimes tragic personal experience as a diving board for a more in-depth analysis of our beliefs and practices regarding relationships and sex. But she also combines history with humour to give us the big picture, regaling tales of John Harvey Kellogg’s strange views on abstinence, and incites the audience to take part in the process. She offered a cornflake to one unsuspecting audience member, who, to our surprise, found it to be a rather potent aphrodisiac.

So next time you’re partners not quite in the mood folks, I would recommend a hearty bowl of breakfast cereal.

Rosie’s peculiar wit had me smiling throughout the show, and she used her crude props to great effect. Hand drawn graphs, tables, and (somewhat) badly drawn doodles give the air of a classroom lecture gone horribly wrong. But there is reason behind the madness – Rosie subtly weaves in the science of relationships, comparing us to the sexually ravenous Bonobo, and looking at the way in which love tends to blossom and mature with time. In one instance, a woman is asked to graph the level of happiness in her current relationship, after which Rosie explains why these levels tend to peak and trough, and why many relationships ultimately don’t make it past the dreaded three year mark.

So while after the show I feel no closer to answering the original question posed by Rosie, I came home feeling somewhat more open minded about the concept of a polyamorous relationship.

While we may not be as promiscuous as our little monkey cousins, we do in fact have many loving relationships with a wide range of people throughout our lives.

If you’re looking for a good laugh, a stimulating night out, and want to learn more about the crazy world of polyamorous relationships, I would recommend a crash course with the very funny Rosie Wilby. Her next performances will be on March 19 at Cambridge CB2 and April 3 at Luton Hat Factory.

Turkey: PM threatens to block Facebook and Youtube

Turkey’s Prime Minister has threatened to ban social networking sites where recent corruption leaks have gone viral.

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Source: Wikipedia

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Source: Wikipedia

Late last Thursday, in a private interview with ATV television, Erdogan said: “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”

“There are new steps we will take in that sphere after March 30 … including a ban [on YouTube, Facebook],” adding to the restrictions that have already been put in place.

Over a million people listened to the recordings within 12 hours, having first been posted to Soundcloud and shared primarily via social networks, where users also voiced their discontent about the Erodgan government.

In one of the leaked conversations, it appears as if Erdogan is instructing his son to dispose of hidden funds amid a corruption investigation.  While in another recording, Erdogan discusses easing zoning laws for a construction tycoon in exchange for two villas for his family.

President Abdullah Gul, a frequent social media user, said that despite the Prime Ministers threat, social media sites would not be blocked in Turkey.

“YouTube and Facebook are recognized platforms all over the world. A ban is out of the question.”

Controversial internet censorship

After the 2013 protests, where social media played a key part due to a media blackout, Erdogan has been attempting to tighten his government’s grip on the internet, drawing international criticism.

As early as June last year, Erdoğan accused “internal traitors and external collaborators” of orchestrating the protests using social media.

He said: “Social media was prepared for this, made equipped. The strongest advertising companies of our country, certain capital groups, the interest rate lobby, organisations on the inside and outside, hubs, they were ready, equipped for this.”

On 24 January 2014, access to SoundCloud, a popular audio sharing site, was blocked indefinitely by the Turkish government, partly due to the release of secretly recorded phone calls between the PM and his family, local politicians and businessmen.

Following the leaks, on 5 February 2014, the Turkish Parliament adopted a controversial new Internet law that sparked protests across Istanbul.

Thousands marched against the new “draconian” law which allows the government to block any website within 24 hours, without needing a court ruling, and requires Internet providers to store all data on web users’ activities for two years.

However, the law must be signed by the Turkish president Gül to come into effect. Erogan is under both domestic and foreign pressure not to ratify the legislation, which he claims are to make the internet “more safe and free”.

According to Engelliweb.com, 10,000 more websites have been blocked this year in Turkey compared to last year, bringing the total to over 40,000.

Speaking to The Guardian, Özgür Uçkan, member of the Alternative Informatics Association and professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said: “The new internet law is catastrophic for Turkey.

“It makes censorship and surveillance legal in Turkey, which is contrary to our constitution and to all international conventions that Turkey is party to.”

Corruption in Turkey

Allegations of corruption first took place late last year, when on 17 December 2013, Istanbul’s Security Directory detained 47 people, including officials from Turkeys Housing Development Administration of Turkey, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, and the District Municipality of Fatih.

The police confiscated $17.5 million as money used in bribery during the investigation.

During the initial phase of the investigation, prosecutors accused 14 people of bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering and smuggling gold. In total, 91 people were detained in the investigation, with 26 of them being arrested by the court.

A second wave of arrests soon followed, with several newspapers reporting that a new investigation was expected on 26 December, involving Prime Minister Erdoğan’s sons, Bilal and Burak, as well as certain Al-Qaeda affiliates from Saudi Arabia.

However, since the beginning of the investigation, the Turkish government has attempted to purge the police force, removing hundreds of police officers from their positions, including chiefs of the units dealing with financial crimes, smuggling and organised crime.

Prime Minister Erdoğan has described the corruption investigation as a “judicial coup” backed by foreigners and those jealous of his success.

One of those accused of orchestrating this scandal is US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, leader of the Gulen movement, a “pacifist, modern-minded” transnational religious and social movement.

In emailed comments to the Wall Street Journal in January 2014, Gülen said that “Turkish people … are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed”, but denied being part of a plot to unseat the government.