Sunday, 14 September 2014

IDS wants Obese Poor on Celebrity Diet Plan...

You have to wonder what  goes on in the Duncan-Smith country estate at weekends. Like a scene from a James Bond film you can picture IDS in his "lair" pondering how to rule the world and what dastardly plan he can hatch out next to humiliate, degrade and punish the poor. Never in the history of British politics has one man, backed by his leader, and even worse turned a blind eye to by the LibDems, been allowed this much freedom to  target his own personal hatred onto one section of society; the most vulnerable. Backed up by a willing right wing media who have conned the working class into actually believing a lot of IDS' rhetoric we are now never shocked by what this right wing maniac will do next.

I use maniac willingly and in context.  "An obsessive enthusiast" " A person exhibiting wild or violent behaviour" "a person suffering from mania" "a deranged person". IDS is certainly an "obsessive enthusiast" over his plans  for the poor, sick and disabled. His latest wheeze probably would have shocked us a few years ago, but such is our "unshockability" at  what he does, his latest idea barely raises an eyebrow, as we have come to expect demonisation of the poor as a daily occurrence, both from Duncan-Smith and his propaganda machine the DWP.

IDS has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a cunning plan  to ask if  poor obese people claiming JSA and ESA could be put on the celebrity diet "The Cambridge Plan" - a £45pw liquid diet. Now many people radicalised by right wing media may well see nothing wrong with poor obese people being given "help" this way. But with the Tories and particularly their hatchet man IDS, you have to peel back the layers to find the hidden truth and reality of the situation. IDS' constituent Ruth Barber is the brain-child of The Cambridge Diet. "All in this together" certainly rings true. As with ATOS being handed multi million pound contracts and various Tory cronies having more fingers in pies than the nursery rhyme figure Little Jack Horner, it seems IDS is keen to put a huge  NHS "diet contract" Ruth Barber's way. Of course were the scheme to become reality, there is always a stick with Duncan-Smiths harebrained ideas and you don't need a crystal ball to know there will be an element of compulsion to participate if you are obese, and in receipt of JSA/ESA or the inevitable sanctions will be applied.

Putting aside, that this is the latest in a whole range of punishments  from a man so dim his own party derides him, let's look at the facts of  obesity and being poor.

Poverty and being on benefit is a vicious grinding cycle. While many of us would like to put some portly MPs, obese due to lavish subsidised lunches and expensive champagne receptions, on one of these celebrity diet plans, yet again the spotlight falls on the very poorest, who in Tory eyes, are not permitted to be obese like their richer "betters". While lardy Cameron parades his belly chillaxing on the various beach holidays he enjoys each year, this is simply not permitted to be poor and fat and scraping by on £71pw JSA.

Those of us whether poor or working poor have very limited incomes which have to be stretched like never before due to Tory imposed austerity. When I have the electric bill to pay or one of the kids comes home with torn trousers which needs replacing immediately, the food budget is where I , and thousands of other people turn to in an effort to find the money needed. To cut down means to go without or replace with  bulky cheap food the kids will eat. Simple as that. I know I can go to Iceland and pick up a pizza for £1 and frozen chips for £1. As much as I would like to , minced beef and fresh  vegetables are a lot more expensive. I have fed a family of 6 on £30 for a weeks meals when desperate, but I know how to as I was taught practical cooking skills by my parents and by school. Many people are not so fortunate.  The school GCSE for example is full of  theory based health and safety questions rather than how to feed yourself on a strict budget.

Once someone like IDS has lived for a year controlling a food budget week in week out on JSA of a total £71pw income or on a Carers income of £61.35pw, then he can speak with authority of how poor obese people should be truly helped. Imagine your food budget as a single person on JSA is £10pw every week, every month which thousands are living on. Now imagine doing a weekly food shop in the supermarket. Out goes the nutritional more expensive food like meat, fresh vegetables; in comes the bulky highly processed foods like frozen pizzas, chips, and value bread. In fact everything becomes the supermarkets value brand; the lowest common denominator. Now after weeks of living on this cheerless bulky high sugar diet, your health starts to suffer you feel lethargic, less motivated, sapped, stressed with the anxiety of wondering where the next meal is coming from, so your mental health takes a bashing. You feel cooking is a chore, you feel less motivated to cook, less motivated to go out. The walls and your horizons start to narrow as your life consists of one long huge effort to survive. And the inevitable thing is that your weight  increases on this high sugar diet and lack of  outdoor exercise and obesity occurs. Obesity brings its own demons of higher  blood pressure, diabetes and other related health problems. Then a man comes along earning £100k a year plus and tells you the answer is a celebrity liquid diet, a cure for your obesity and poverty in one, and that by going on this diet, you will be fit for work, off benefit and your life improves with a wave of the IDS magic wand!

What utter tosh!  GPs will tell you of the complex array of health problems caused by poverty. Poverty and a lack of education and life skills go hand in hand and have done for decades. Successive governments have never found the cure. Likewise GPs will also point to the excessive lifestyles of the rich where their obesity is caused by too many rich foods and lavish dinners. But IDS is not pushing a celebrity diet  onto his cronies is he?!

So stuff your liquid diet IDS. Stop trying to award big fat privatised NHS contracts to your chums. And get off the backs of the poor who can't carry the weight of austerity any longer. Fat chance Cameron will sack you sooner, but  I very much think that like your party, you will be history in May 2015.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Britain needs a Pay Rise; But Women are desperate for a Living Wage

In TUC conference week much of the talk will revolve around low pay and the curse of zero hours contracts and rightly so. Since Day 1 of the ConDem government, employers have been positively encouraged to put the lid firmly on any pay increases and demand massive flexibility with their staff, to the point where workers are no longer employed directly but through agencies in many cases. Sacked on a whim, laid off on the spot for a week or two, scrambling for any extra hours the employer has to offer is now general. Even the Tories own manipulated figures on the economy are showing a skewed 'recovery' yet the lid remains firmly closed at the whisper of any increase in pay for the workers. Four years have passed with no pay rises, despite big bonuses for the bankers continuing, while austerity has virtually broken the backs of the poorest.

Those most bearing the brunt are women. Successive governments have urged and pushed women to the brink in a swift return to work after the birth of a child, economic forces have removed a woman's right of choice to work flexible hours, or take a few years to stay at home and care for her child should she wish, single mothers have been villified and not even a tax break given to couples, but a pernicious culling and freezing of child benefit at a time when it is needed more than ever.

 We have ended up with a situation where nurseries have become daycare warehouses for babies under 2, while mum desperately tries to find work that will cover the bills, let alone provide a few luxuries like holidays. Its all very well if the woman is a high flyer and can afford nannies and au pair help but the majority of us cannot. On top of this, although in theory a woman can request flexible working hours to care for a disabled child or elderly relative, in practice employers do not want an employee who may have to leave work at a moments notice. Being female under this ConDem government has meant hardship on every front and none more so than on pay.

A recent survey in the north west by the TUC revealed 2 in 5 part time jobs in the UK pay less than the living wage. However in Pendle Lancs, 3 out of 5 women - 61.5% are paid below the living wage. There is a 34%part time gender pay gap! A toxic mix of zero hours or ridiculous low hours contracts like 4 or 7 hours a week only add to the problem. In an effort to combine caring with work, women will often take any low paid factory work or supermarket job to make ends meet. Pressure is being mounted by unions to see councils adopt the Living Wage and this is having some success. But lets get into the private sector companies and show them the benefits of both the Living Wage but also Living Hours and employing staff directly. It is definitely a case of going back to the future, but without stable employment on a Living Wage, women and all workers face a future of slave labour.

A new generation of young women are emerging from school having spent the last 4 years perhaps watching their own parents struggle on low pay. A new generation of women who think zero hours, low pay and no workplace rights is the 'norm'. We have to work fast to change that narrative. There will be many women who go onto careers, but there will be many who will shift between one low paid job to the other and this government have so far been successful at brainwashing people into thinking this is their lot in life. A zero hours low paid job where renting a house is beyond them. We cannot allow Cameron and co to have this kind of blanket power across the working class. We need to empower women and all young people through education in high schools that it is a basic human right that a Living Wage and Living Hours are theirs to demand from employers. When they feel too vulnerable to stand up to an employer as a member of a Trade Union they have the right to representation. Education is the key.

The concept of in work poverty is alarmingly, slowly being absorbed and accepted. When a woman returns home from work in a low paid, unskilled, zero hours job she often then has to turn to household chores, childrens activities/ homework and caring duties. Having the time and strength to campaign against in work poverty alludes her. That is why it is absolutely imperative we campaign within our unions and take to the streets in demonstrations to show society and employers and companies we are not prepared to accept low pay and less than the living wage and living hours. A Labour government post 2015 must also put an end to in work poverty and Ed Miliband has pledged to free us of the scourge of routine zero hours contracts.

A mandatory Living Wage would be the cherry on the cake Ed. Lets do it!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Letter to Iain McNicol: Don't price the poor out of Labour Conference

Dear Mr McNicol

I am writing to you as General Secretary of the Labour Party to look at an issue that is causing many grassroots Labour members, concern, anger and upset over the cost of attending this years Labour Conference in Manchester.

In recent years the cost for attending conference has risen to the point where it is now more than the cost of 1 weeks Carers Allowance. The cost for carers, the unemployed and disabled is £63 for the conference week, whilst Carers Allowance is £61.35pw. Even if we decided to go for one day of conference the cost is £28 per day.

Firstly, I completely understand the Labour Party have no option but to raise funds for the 2015 Election Campaign by charging a fee for Conference entry. The Labour Party does not have huge millionaire banker donors like the Tories and it is harder for Labour to raise funds. Secondly I also realize CLPs send delegates to conference. However my CLP is low on funds and sends the same person every year, so other people do not get the chance to attend.

What I would like to get over to you is the following: Please try and find a way for the working poor, poor, carers, disabled, retired, unemployed to attend conference without it costing a whole weeks income. There are many working class members like myself who are eager to participate, eager to get involved, have as much right as other people to hear Ed Milibands vision post 2015, yet sadly cost prohibits us attending.

I know you have no control over accomodation costs in Manchester in September but even Premier Inns are charging £600+ for four days. Once conference pass, food and transport have been added on, the four days are the cost of a family holiday! Labour could, and in my view should, make it clear it wants to hear our voices too - the voices of the working class loud and clear, supporting Ed Miliband and the party in its drive to victory 2015. Does Ed merely want his words to echo around a room of MPs, and people who can afford to attend?

Money should not be the price the poor pay for being locked out of participation.

I urge you to seriously look at how the Labour Party prices its conference passes to those for whom £63 is a weeks income or more. £5 per day or £20pw would be a lot more comfortable for the majority of poor Labour members.

Please make this change. There are thousands of Labour members out there depending on you to let their voices be heard.

Yours faithfully

Bernadette Horton
Carer and Proud Member of the Working Poor and Labour Party.

I am sending this in written form to Mr McNicol today. As soon as I have a response I will update this blog.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Working Class Homes ; Let's Build, Build, Build!

Going back to the 1960s and 70s our council houses were homes to be proud of. Whilst not made of the costlier materials of private homes or to the grandest of designs, they were real homes. My mum was brought up in a lovely 3 bedroomed pre-fab house, put up quickly after the war with huge gardens front and back. My abiding memory is my grandfather tending the roses at the front and growing his vegetables at the back. Everyone worked in his road, everyone prided themselves on the neatness of their homes and gardens.

We need to return to this. Council homes that are built where tenants can be proud to live and proud of the community they belong to. Currently there are 4.5 million people on a council house waiting list. When Thatcher came to power in 1979, 150,000 council houses were built every year. When Thatcher left in 1990 only 1500 were built. Whatever we think about Thatcher, she was a clever woman. She sold us the aspiration of working class home ownership. "Buy your council house, live the dream, become one of us" she said and like fools we, the working class, fell for it.

 But for every council house sold under right to buy, next to none were built to replace them. Once Thatcher had got us hooked on the aspiration of owning a house, the drug lingered from one generation to the next, where renting was frowned upon and soon council and social housing was looked down upon as necessary places to "warehouse" the unemployed, single parents, the disabled, criminals and people washing up on the shores of the fringes of society. Early on working class low paid workers, shunned council housing entirely, going straight to home ownership with the lure of 100% mortgages. Many of course ended up, back on council housing lists when interest rates shot up in the late 80's and their homes were reposessed!

With the relentless rise in  numbers needing council housing and successive governments stubborn refusal to build, we have now reached a tipping point crisis, started by Thatcher and ramped up by Cameron. For the first time since records began home ownership is declining. Well done Dave! A family loses their home every 15 minutes under the ConDems. Private tenants  are on a merry-go-round of 6 month tenancies as landlords can evict so easily.

In London we have the great "buy to leave" crisis where oligarchs living abroad buy expensive London houses then leave them to stand to go up in price with no one living in them. The UK spends £20bn a year on Housing Benefit, plugging the gap for renters in the private sector whose rents are soaring under greedy landlords. Yet we spend £1bn a year building new homes currently. The ConDems  decided to point the finger directly at the poor as expected, and social cleansing of London is ongoing by setting a benefit cap, driving tenants often  hundreds of miles from the capital.

So what can be done? Ed Miliband is talking a very good start on the issue for the Labour manifesto. In Europe and even USA rent control is mainstream and expected. We desperately need some kind of rent control in the UK. The buy - let landlord needs curbing. Ridiculous photographs of "flats" with £700pm rents where you can't open a kitchen cupboard door as the bed is in the kitchen next to the sink is becoming the norm. Miliband recognises this and will move to bring in rent controls, a move decried by the Daily Mail as being "communist!"

Labour realises that Housing and the crises surrounding housing is a top 5 burning issue for people in the run up to 2015. Ironically housing hasn't even figured as an issue prior to the run up to 2010. But then the Tories hadn't been in power since 1997!  Ed  Miliband  has said Labour will build 200,000 houses every year of a Labour government from 2015. Admirable. He has a grip of the crisis. But we need to hear more on affordable homes and council housing. Letting local councils borrow to build social housing is a first move. Making sure these new homes have a mix of housing, green areas and a social mix of working, retired, disabled and unemployed people is also a key factor for new council houses fit for the 21st century. Let's not use the lowest common denominator as a starting point. Let's build housing that looks like the private housing around it ,so new council housing is not pointed at, ostracised and looked down upon as inferior.

Before we do this, we need to campaign to change the narrative. The Tories have bombarded the media with programmes on welfare and scroungers and have convinced swathes of the working class everyone is on the take and more cuts to social security are well past due and needed! Tosh! It's a media - newspaper and TV campaign to get their austerity message across and turn us on each other taking the heat away from them! The Tories are casting suspicion on charities like Shelter who are calling for more housebuilding and campaigning for the homeless as if homeless people are "undeserving" of a roof over their heads!

But look at our kids! I have a 25 year old son and a 22 year old son both are low paid. One is a care worker, the other on zero hours in a factory. My eldest moved out to a tiny 2 bed house with his partner which they rent privately at more than my mortgage! My 22 year old son  still lives  at home, renting out of his sphere of possibility. Zero hours, agency employed on poverty wages.. That's our kids lot in life and a new generation of renters and kids staying at home well into their 30s is what is happening in 2014. We can't meekly sit back and see the next generation far worse off than our own. We need decent social housing and we need it now! Join with me and tell a future Labour government : It's time to build, build, build!

TTIP - What it means to you and I ...

You may have heard briefly on the news, at work or within your union about TTIP.  It all seems to be global, between countries,  a bit lofty and academic for the likes of us ordinary people to get to grips with. Many people say it means nothing to them or is something the governments discuss between themselves and has no bearing on our lives. That's what the Tories want you to think. Believe me TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) will have more impact on ordinary working class people than you could ever imagine.

While we were passively voting or not voting in the recent European elections, big corporations across the globe were holding negotiation meetings  under the disguise of "free trade agreements" to give corporations new powers to challenge governments to "regulate, legislate and take back privatisations into public ownership" (Unite Briefing). Basically it is a free trade agreement between the USA and Europe. This treaty is about "harmonising standards" but  the corporations will determine what these standards actually are!  The negotiations took place furtively behind closed doors that ordinary people knew nothing about. The secrecy was because  the free trade agreement is about removing barriers to trade across the US to Europe. These "barriers for trade" just happen to include trade unionism, labour rights, food standards, climate and environmental factors, things that make the big corporations answerable and accountable. Yes you read it correctly! They want these removed!  TTIP would give these corporations the right to sue governments, councils etc who breached the free trade agreement by not implementing or refusing to implement directives.

TTIP is about increasing power to multi national investors, while reducing regulation on them. The USA wants to use TTIP to prise open the markets of Europe for the benefit of US capital. But how does this effect us?

Let's start with our NHS. Cameron is keen on TTIP because under it he could contract out and privatise the entire NHS. A future Labour government would then not be able to challenge the privatised contracts and get the NHS back in the public domain as the contracts would be unchangeable over 10 or 15 years for example. We all know of the "welfare or ghetto" hospitals in the USA. Well they would be here in no time under TTIP with our NHS being sold off to US investors and our service, already creaking under the ConDems would turn into the same system as in America. Turn up at a hospital with your cheque book. Unable to pay? Tough! Attend the "welfare" hospital if you can find one in your area! If we get a Labour government their hands would be tied and they would have to put up with a privatised NHS, sold to the highest bidder who puts profits before people. Andy Burnham told a recent meeting he would not sign any deal that did not exempt the NHS from TTIP. Good, but not good enough. We don't want the Labour Party Party signing ANY TTIP deal.

Already under the NHS Act 2012 all NHS hospitals will be Foundation Trusts this year. This allows them to take 49% of their income by treating paying patients. Poor patients will now miss out on treatment as rich people jump the queue. Andy Burnham will repeal this act on
Day 1 of a Labour government. But if TTIP goes ahead he will be unable to do anything!  This trade agreement will be binding on all governments, taking away our elected right to transfer the NHS back into public ownership.

The USA has always been traditionally hostile to trade unions. This would not change under TTIP. The US has ratified only 14 of 190 Labour Organisation Conventions and only 2 out of 8 core conventions dealing with child labour, forced labour freedom of association and discrimination. With Cameron already promising a huge Trade Union crackdown should he be elected in 2015, do we really need a US backed trade agreement that would be enforceable.

Around 70% of all processed food sold in American supermarkets contains GM (genetically modified) ingredients. Not so in the UK and Europe. The USA want to use TTIP to launch an assault on EU regulations - an EU that David Cameron wants to withdraw from and he is getting louder on the subject with a real zest to withdraw the UK from the Human Rights Act for starters. No one knows the long term effects of GM foods yet under TTIP we could be forced to eat GM food, like it or not!

In the USA upwards of $400m of taxpayers money has been spent in courts  and paid in compensation to corporations when they took authorities to court over banned and toxic substances and water and forest protection.

Over 90% of US beef is produced with the use of bovine growth hormones. The EU including the UK have had restrictions on the import of this beef since 1988. Again using TTIP, the USA want to
remove this under the freedom to trade clause.

If TTIP comes into being it will place the rights of investors above the rights of people's protection of  social and workplace rights, health, food and environment protection. It is a huge issue that is being talked about behind our backs, but under our noses. Be aware, tell your friends, neighbours and colleagues and most of all campaign to stop it in your communities. If it gets passed in late 2014 it will not only change our country, it will change our world for the worse.

Thanks to Joy Johnson for the TTIP Literature briefing from Unite, contained in the above.

From School Uniforms to Childcare; from Days Out to Food; the Working Poor hell of the 6 week School Summer Holiday.

That time of year has rolled around again; the 6 week school summer holiday. While the rich jet off abroad the poor and working poor will suffer like never before on a variety of fronts.

 When I was young, growing up in the 70s it was simple. Dad worked full time and Mum worked 2 evenings a week part time. While we were never well off, Mum handled the school summer holidays childcare wise for myself and my sisters on her own, with Dad's help on the 2 evenings she worked. Days were filled with bike rides, little picnics to the local park, trips to fetes or building dens in the garden. This then culminated in the 1 week caravan holiday to either Cornwall, Wales or Great Yarmouth which was looked forward to every year with great excitement. A working class school summer holiday that ended in the last days of August, when Mum marched us off to town for the school uniform buying. I never heard her complain once about the cost of kitting us out, even though a couple of items had to be bought at the school shop.

Fast forward to recent years when I have had all four of my sons straddling High School to Primary. I used to start buying my school uniforms for the September start at Easter! School logoed blazers and jumpers are the curse of the working poor parent! Every year successive governments have applied pressure to schools encouraging them to have a generic uniform with no school logos. I know of none where this is the case. Those navy jumpers all over supermarket adverts are useless when your school charges double or triple the price because the school badge has to be emablazoned on it. There were many years when I simply did not have the money to buy 'quality' school uniform items from M+S and the like and had to buy cheaper uniform. This frankly was so poor quality it barely got to October half term without having to be replaced, and thus defeated the object of being 'cheap'. Since Cameron came to power you can then add on certain GCSE textbooks as schools do not have enough to round. To kit 4 boys out in the whole uniform plus blazers,coats, shoes, football/gym shoes, PE kit and stationery would always come in at around the £800 mark. A huge sum to find in the school holidays and one I dreaded every year! Currently I have 2 sons left at High school and have become wiser, buying mens trousers, shoes etc in the stores summer sales.

I should be thankful I have not had to find 6 weeks school holiday childcare. That is only because my youngest son is autistic and I exist on the £61.35pw carers allowance.  For those who have no option, the juggling required and sheer cost is immense. I have a friend who is in this position. She and her partner have 3 children. One is 14 at High School and the other two are 5 and 8 in primary school. There are no grandparents living nearby. She takes the first week off school to stay home, her partner takes the second week off. Then she relies on her 14 year old to fill in the gap for the 3rd week which she feels guilty over, but has no choice. She then pays for two weeks childcare for the 5 and 8 year old full time and then  the whole family has a final week together in a caravan holiday in the UK. She would love a holiday abroad but school under Michael Gove have made it clear this is not allowed in term time, and she can't afford to go abroad in August as the cost doubles. Her school uniform costs are around the £500 mark. She is in favour of a shorter 3 week school summer holiday with the option to remove children for a holiday for up to 10 days a year excluding exam times. She feels this is fairer and far more do-able for working families.

For those families totally unable to afford a holiday, days out are no longer a cheap option. Once the 'free' days of a trip to the park, wandering around town with a visit to a cafe perhaps, bike riding etc are done children are often moaning about wanting a proper day out like their peers at school. For a family of 4, once petrol/train fares have been taken into consideration, entrance fees paid to a theme park or other attraction, a mid day lunch bought there is no change out of a few hundred pounds. While Cameron and his Cabinet jet off abroad, the working poor are wondering if their employer will give them full hours next week on their zero hour contract. Full hours of 35+ may give scope for a day out, but of course this is not assured! Rents and mortgages and other bills still have to be found in August. If ever there was a 'payment free holiday month' August would be top of my list!

Feeding your children for 6 weeks should not be a problem but in 2014 foodbanks are bracing themselves for unprecedented summer holiday demand. When poor children are in school, they at
least get 1 meal a day. In the summer holidays this is not the case. Couple this with bored children whose parents can't afford days out or a holiday and this results in 6 weeks of food hell. The older they are the worse it gets as tempers flare.

In my own household I plan carefully the main meals for the summer holidays week by week, but find I am buying a lot more bread, ham and salad for sandwiches, cereal and milk, bottles of squash etc as the 'fridge raiding' is far more frequent than in term time. My food bill soars and I always welcome September with relief on the food front. Families who get free school meals during term time are frequently unable to cope during the summer. Working Poor families who are not entitled to free school meals are already  sending their children to school with no lunch on some days of the month, as they simply have run out of money until payday. In 2013 a local foodbank reported a 40% surge in referrals during the school summer holidays. I witnessed 2 small children dancing around their kitchen delighted the foodbank had provided them with breakfast cereal for the week. Not treats, but cereal, a staple for the majority of families.

Huge pressure has been put on the backs of the working class by the ConDems. It is us and our children who are bearing the burden. Cleggs answer was to provide free school meals to all 5 and 6 year olds. He forgot many schools have no kitchens but was hell bent on ploughing on with his hare brained scheme! He never thought for one moment, that while the 5 year olds of the children of Cabinet members were enjoying a free school meal, impoverished working poor children aged 7 were going without a lunch as mums whispered 'Tell the teacher you're not hungry just for today' as she wracked her brains trying to figure out how she would pay for lunches for the rest of the week! That's real life Clegg; that is what is happening in your 2014 Britain!

Yet still the politicians wring their hands and do nothing. Gove has gone but he has been replaced by privately educated Nicky Morgan whose philosophy has so far constituted that 'University Education is not a right'. No change there then! Successive governments have talked the talk over the school summer holiday then done absoloutely nothing. Gove just decided to punish parents for taking
children out of school in term time. This has annoyed the middle class particularly, but Nicly Morgan is adamant government policy will remain unaltered: Punish parents who can't afford a peak summer holiday. No thought for the working poor.

It's time to support parents by any government that gets elected in 2015. More parents are having to work but childcare is unaffordable. Poor parents and parents of disabled children are unable to feed their kids over the 6 week summer holiday. Days out are luxuries. These are the lives of the working class in 2014 - lives far removed from Westminster where a couple of holidays, treats and days out are the norm for children of MPs during the summer! Walk a mile in our shoes during this summer and  try to change things to make our lives just a little easier. A time when feeding the kids, buying the  new terms uniforms and a 1 week holiday are once again within reach. After all haven't things progressed just a little bit since my 1970s childhood? To the poor it appears not.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

My Year as a Unite Community Member...

It's almost 12 months since I decided to join a trade union. Up until that point people like myself - full time carers, the disabled, the unemployed, the self employed couldn't join a union as we did not work in the traditional unionised workplaces.

One of the most innovative, bold decisions ever made by a Union General Secretary was when Len McCluskey decided to open up Unite to the community. Len instinctively knew that people in communities were suffering under the Tory imposed austerity. He knew that  people were fighting to stop community facilities from being closed, the disabled were fighting against ATOS, carers were struggling on their £61.35pw and needed a voice to get their reasonable demand for recognition and  an increase in the paltry carers allowance, and unemployed people were suffering due to Job Centre sanctions, and many working class people were losing their homes under the Bedroom Tax.

So Unite Community was born to join up communities with workplaces and give people in the community a voice,  education through training courses , and the linguistic tools to fightback against the dark Tory forces seeking to return working class people to a bygone age.

I grabbed my chance of Unite Community membership with both hands, relishing the opportunity to play my part in changing the narrative on austerity, telling people in my community and beyond that we really do not have to take austerity on the chin, and that ordinary working class people like myself  have the power to change this government in 2015. So what have I learnt?

One of the first things I quickly found was that I am never alone. The Unite family are always there to help. I am part of Unite Community in N Wales and my community officer Jo, covers the whole country and  is always there should I have a query or require training. She has encouraged me to embark on training courses, and to have self belief  that carers like myself have a huge role to play in shaping not only our communities but also the wider national political picture. From Community Activism to Public Speaking  courses, Unite tutors have encouraged me all the way. I have used the Unite website as a useful educational resource, campaigned on various issues both online through social media and also out in the community. My self belief that I can play a part in changing things has soared and even though I have limited mobility, I have recently taken part in campaigning against job centre sanctions on a picket line and represented Unite Wales at the Durham Miners Gala - proudly holding a banner!

 Unite Community have supported me to travel to hear inspiring speeches and to learn from the likes of Ian Lavery MP, Katy Clarke MP, Tom Watson MP and many people involved in the campaigns to save our NHS from TTIP. Passing on these messages to my local community, getting more people to be involved in local campaigns and speaking out publically myself is the only real way to tackle this governments rancid policies foisted on the working class and the most vulnerable.

I know that myself and other proud Unite Community members will be instrumental in the task to get the Labour Party elected in 2015 and the upcoming months will be tough and we expect the Tories to do the only campaigning they know best : smear the Labour Party, play on the politics of fear, and talk a dirty fight. But Cameron and his cronies are up against us now; ordinary people who are equipped to not only counteract his Etonian rhetoric, but to have real knowledge and the power to change the narrative, change the mantra that for the past 4 years has set neighbour v neighbour, poor v working poor, British v Immigrant.

 There is a growing awareness and hatred in the very working class communities so despised by the Tories, that austerity, privatising our NHS, making zero hours contracts the norm, producing Generation Rent, ensuring wages are so low that working families are visiting foodbanks is what us ordinary people have to put up with in life, while the Cabinet Millionaires and the bankers get richer.

Using your vote in 2015 to vote for any party other than Labour is a complete waste! If Labour are not elected we get 5 more years of even worse Toryism as Osborne seeks to cut a further £11 billion from the likes of us. I like to tell Labour waverers ; don't think about the leader of the Labour Party, think about the policies he is implementing: stopping the Bedroom Tax, making sure our NHS remains public and stopping Camerons privatisation by stealth, part renationalising our railways, giving our kids a future with Technical Apprenticeships, giving 25 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, putting an end to zero hours contracts and pressing employers to pay the Living Wage. Isn't that preferable to 5 more years of huge cuts, making zero hours the norm and ensuring even renting is beyond our kids dreams? That is Toryism post 2015; that is Organised Spivvery in action.

So my first year as a Unite Community member can be summed up as : exhilerating, educational, dynamic and the most wonderful aspect the Tories will shudder at: EMPOWERING. Unite have given me the tools to effect change, and enabled me to become a real activist. Isn't that something you would want to join too?

I urge anyone in the community who wants to get their voice heard, campaign for their community, feel part of a vast movement of people v austerity and this government - Join Unite Community today!¬ You also receive the same benefits as full Unite members for only 50p pw !

Unite Community Membership Information

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Politicians: Let me Welcome you to the World of the Real Working Class

An open letter to Politicians of all represented Parties in Parliament, particularly Party Leaders:

For a few minutes let me open the door and let you take a peek at the world of the real working class people; our issues and concerns over the way you govern us, the way you caricature us, but most of all the way you THINK you know what is best for us. without ever having walked a mile in our shoes.

The following are real issues that ordinary working class people are going through, putting up with, and battling on a daily basis. Try to understand, try to empathise, but most of all act for us.  In 2015 after years of being ignored, derided and put in our places, we have the power as a very large group to kick you out, or put you into No.10 Downing Street. Please read on.


"Not being able to visit sick elderly parents because you can't afford the transport costs"

"Unable to send birthday cards to family/friends because you can't afford cards and stamps."

"Not having a holiday in 15 years."

"Telling your child to turn down party invitations because you can't afford a present for the birthday child."

"After paying the weekly food shop, not having enough money for washing powder/liquid, cleaning products, toothpaste, shampoo or  pet food."

"Dreading unexpected family events like funerals as you can't afford time off work or the costs associated with travel, overnight stay etc"

"The sheer relief felt when on the 1st of the month you have managed to pay the direct debits and  have £5 left if you are lucky!"

"One of the kids is ill with a bad cold. It takes over a week to get a doctors appointment for a free prescription. but you have no money to buy medicine right now."

"The dread of  ringing HMRC to renew tax credits. If they mess it up you can go weeks with no money at all."

"When a roast dinner on a Sunday is a once a month luxury... Maybe."

"When a grandparent pushes £10 into your hand to "buy the kids an ice cream" and you know it will buy you some much needed fresh fruit and veg or a joint of meat.

"The fear as a parent you get when the letter for a school trip or the school Prom come home. The thought of the extra expenditure needed to stop your child from being ridiculed fills you with anxiety."

"Dreading the DWP brown letter dropping through your letterbox as it signals a drop or complete stoppage of benefit. Loving Sundays as there is no post."

"Selling cherished items on EBay to pay for bills or a small present on a child's birthday."

"When you've hit rock bottom - been referred to a Foodbank and given a food parcel for a week. Once you have hit rock bottom you realise there is no other way to go but up."

"Had to take out a pay day loan just to pay the bills knowing you will be in the same situation next month"

"Envying those who can have shopping days at retail parks, a new hair-do, a meal out with the kids or other small treats."

"Being disabled and being put to bed at 5.15pm by a visiting carer as they have 20 other people to visit."

"Working 40 hours a week full time, paying bills but can't even afford one night a month in the pub."

"Sending the kids to local relatives at tea times or on weekends because you can't afford to feed them for the whole week."

"Coming to breaking point as a carer and Social Services telling you there is nothing they can do to help as their funding has been cut."

"Waking up at night -every night - with the worry you won't be able to pay your rent/mortgage that month."

"Telling the kids in winter they can have a fun game of making tents in the front room out of their bed quilts. The truth is you can't afford to put the heating on all evening and you need to keep them and yourself warm."

"Being kicked out of your house with rent/mortgage arrears and living as a family in a one room B+B - scared and fearful."

"Thinking seasonal employment is now a "good" job."

"You have a child with special needs. You constantly get calls from school to come in as your child is having a crisis. But your employer is getting so fed up they have asked you whether you have commitment to the job or wish to leave. You know you have no choice and face life back on £61.35pw Carers Allowance."

"Putting off hospital appointments as you are an agency staff , zero contract hour worker and you know you are "easily replaced".

"Keeping kids intentionally off school on the last day of the Christmas and July terms as you can't afford the "teacher present" giving where other parents consistently try to outdo each other."

" Existing" as a carer on £61.35pw - every week - every year."

"Answering your kids as to why they can't go on holiday like other kids with "I can barely afford the new school uniform for September, let alone a summer holiday."

"Not knowing from one week to the next what hours your employer wants you to do, and when, and fighting with colleagues over extra hours when they become available."

"Hunting down the back of the sofa for any coins that will buy a loaf and baked beans for the kids tea"

"Wanting to work but your child is disabled. There is no childminder going to take on your disabled child on a 1-1 when they can take 6 able bodied children all fee paying.The local nursery have no specially trained staff to deal with your child's disability so your talent goes to waste and you live in poverty."

"Knowing you have to find the extra £15pw Bedroom Tax or if you don't it means your kids have to
move school, you may have to move neighbourhood or even county and leave behind all your relatives and support systems so you cut back on food."

"As a single parent on zero hours contract at a supermarket you are asked to work a week on the very late shift that ends at midnight. You can't refuse as you need the money. And you have to be flexible like the other workers or you will be overlooked when extra hours become available There are no relatives nearby so you take the risk of leaving the 12 yr old in charge of the younger ones."

"As you are Working Poor and not entitled to free school lunches, you face the dread of not having enough money to cover a full weeks lunches and hoping the teachers won't notice when your children go without one day."

"Waiting at a supermarket late at night as they give huge discounts in the chilled aisle so you can afford to feed the family the following day."

"Watching your talented child wonder whether they can afford a university education when your financial support as a parent will be £0.

"Wishing Party Leaders could walk a mile in your shoes for 6-12 months. Knowing for that length of time policy would definitely change."

"Hoping Party Leaders look at their parties and decide they want more working class people as MPs, who know the issues working class people have because they have gone through them, themselves!"

Thank you for taking the time to read this if you are an MP especially. Encourage your Party Leader to read this too. The  working class want change. We are a savvy, fed up group of people with millions of votes up for  grabs in 2015. Earn those votes.

Monday, 16 June 2014

ConDems: You will NOT turn my children into Generation Right.

It's been a sinister few weeks in education. Reports, accusations and counterclaims about what has/hasn't been going on in Birmingham schools has been rife. May accusing Gove, Gove accusing May of being at fault within the Government. Knee jerk policy written on the back of a fag packet has trotted forth. More unscheduled Ofsted inspections, more scrutiny of school governors, and the icing on the cake was Cameron.

"We must have more Britishness in schools" says Dave. "British values must be taught" he said before running back into No 10 without any further explanation of what "British values" are! Tories British values will be a lot different to yours and mine. There have been a few instances that have been under-reported recently which offer up possible explanations as to what Tories consider these values to be.

In The Telegraph this article £1m for school cadets provides some idea of what the Tories want. The ConDems  (I am including LibDems as Tim Farron LibDems President, openly admitted to me on twitter that he supports the idea in principle) want to pump £1 million into state schools to run "Military Cadet Training". As my 2 sons had 8 Geography GCSE textbooks between a class of 23 and I had to buy the books online myself, this beggars belief this funding is being used for this purpose.

While many brilliant volunteers give up their time to train children at cadets in many skills such as survival training and first aid skills, as a parent I am very uneasy about "Military Cadet Training" for my sons. Will there be an air of compulsion to participate in schools? Will parents be able to opt their children out if they so wish? And my ultimate question is why is this funding being made available for this purpose? I do not wish my sons to know how to fire a gun is my bottom line. Many other parents will feel the same. The Tory line is that the  training will instill discipline in children. This I find deplorable. In order to instill discipline in schools the ConDems are advocating military training. To be a law abiding child at school my sons have to learn how to fire a rifle? This is straight out of Gove's 1950s school handbook, alongside all his other teacher bashing, half baked ideas on the way forward to educating our children!

And focussing on children. Everyone knows that traditionally the military are right wing biased. By getting our children into military cadet training they are attempting  by stealth to turn a generation to the right.

Another article appeared in the Daily Mail  Cameron and School Reformsby an ex-Gove advisor. It was the forgotten footnote at the bottom of the article that prompted my alarm instantly.

* " In a separate development last night, it emerged that children as young as five are to be taught about business in a bid to produce a generation of entrepreneurs. 
Mr Cameron is expected to support plans for a major overhaul of the curriculum to promote business. 
The changes, proposed by Tory grandee Lord Young of Graffham, will include teaching children about the importance of profit and encourage them to be more entrepreneurial."

Children as young as 5! It beggars belief! Yet another stealth tactic to turn a generation to the right.
If Tories want our children to learn about entrepreneurialism then I want children taught about their work rights, their pay rights, their citizens rights and a full programme of Trade Unionism education taught in school. I want my sons to grow up in the knowledge they do not have to accept zero hours contracts as the norm and how to campaign effectively against that. I do not want my sons being right wing automatons, controlled by a right wing government, scared to speak out when they see injustice and accepting a future of low pay, no workplace rights and no chance of improvement as the right wing state has educated and knocked the fight out of them.

We are already seeing the decline in looking after our neighbour and the rise of a selfish society concerned with mass consumerism and self, self, self. To have this taught in schools is anathema to myself and millions of other parents.

The Tories are proposing radical new anti-union legislation should they gain power in 2015. They want to impose a minimum turnout before a strike ballot so employees cannot strike unless the turnout is above 50%. Ironically Tory MEPs have been recently elected on an average turnout by voters of around 30%! One rule for the posh boys, and one rule for us! 

BBC radio aired a programme on Radio 4 entitled "Generation Right" where they explored the real issue that young people under 30 are now a lot more right wing than their parents/grandparents due to right wing government policies and extensive media coverage of  the benefits system with its move towards "scrounger benefit" rhetoric. The BBC are complicit  with their programmes imaginatively titled "Saints and Scroungers" and "Nick and Margaret: We all pay your benefits". Never has a generation been subjected to such intervention by  TV to demonise a section of society.

The last education reform I will tackle is that of the "hardworking school day" being extended. Articles have been creeping into the right wing media and lauding schools results by extending the school day to 6pm. All this is being said under the guise of both results and also of extended childcare, trying to appeal to working parents. It is no secret Gove is fond of the Chinese 10-12 hour school day. Link this up right from a child's first birthday where parents on benefit are now expected to be available for work, and we have a sinister mantra of "working from the cradle to the grave" quite literally as retirement age is ever being increased.

"Hardworking" Families, people, children and any other section of society this Government can rope in are drip fed into a susceptible public. The ConDems and their right wing media have been uber successful at seeping that message into the publics psyche whereby people en masse believe " I work all the hours god sends so my neighbours must too." Hence all society must now work until they are
exhausted by it all. Now it seems government want our children to be made to do the same.

Sorry Cameron, Gove and your sidekick Nick Clegg, you are NOT turning my children into nasty, right wing state sponsored advocates of your regime.

You will NOT be allowed to turn my children into "Generation Right."

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Carers Week: It's time for Revolution

In Carers Week one important thing springs to mind. We have spent years having carers weeks, successive governments have hailed carers as heroes, leaders of parties and MPs have eagerly turned up for a photo-shoot with a world wearied carer and proceeded to trot out the lines of "unsung heroes" "saving the country millions in care costs". But then comes the inevitable walk- away, photo opp done, issue forgotten about.

Let's change the narrative. Let's talk about the issues that really matter to carers and let's campaign for a revolution in how Carers are treated, supported, financially rewarded in a socially just Britain in the 21st century.

For decades carers have been lauded but not heard, praised but not rewarded. It is time to campaign to change all that. But what are the issues facing carers today?

The first involves treating both carers and the disabled or elderly person (s) they care for not as stand alone individuals but with needs that are linked. An holistic approach. We need to join up GPs, hospitals and social services with a care and support package for both the person involved and the carer. With the current swathes of red tape concerning Disability Living Allowance and the new Persomal Independence Payment (PIP) and only being allowed to have a carer if the disabled or elderly person receives a certain rate of the allowance, the whole thing is a maze of confusion for any carer negotiating it. A GP assessment of the disabled/elderly person alongside the carer and a referral to social services where the carers needs are assessed is a good starting point. This means there is no gaming of the system and carers can be treated with respect and dignity. Social services can provide support on caring for the disabled/elderly person, advice on respite breaks and also support carers when the going gets tough.

Either from the time a child is born disabled, or equally if an elderly relative begins to suffer from dementia, carers may have to cope with a whole lifetime on Carers Allowance or give up their job suddenly and revert to a full time caring role. Current rules mean you can only claim carers allowance at the derisory rate of £61.25pw if you are caring for a person more than 35 hours per week and are over 16.  Some carers are also caring for more than 1 person with a disability, yet receive the same cursory £61.25pw whether caring for one person or three. This needs a radical rethink.Young carers under 16 and there are currently 700,000 of them in the UK receive £0. Most, if not all, are juggling school with caring responsibilities. How is that deemed acceptable in 21st century Britain? No child under 16 should be caring for a disabled or addicted parent/relative yet this supposedly civilised country expects them to. Not only do we expect them to but we also expect them to do it for nothing.

The whole system of Carers Allowance is archaic, unreasonable and not fit for purpose yet no government seems keen to tackle it. There are 7 million disabled people in the UK. There are 6.5 million carers. Even on a cynical basis has no political party stopped to think about the number of votes it could potentially gain if it reached out to both?

Some carers may feel able to juggle caring with a job. Yet straightaway the Government under the DWP impose strict rules for daring to do so. If you earn 1p over £100 per week your carers allowance is stopped completely.  This has huge financial implications and becomes a game of cat and mouse with employers. I spoke to a cleaner at a nursing home recently, who was balancing caring for her elderly mum with Alzheimer's with a part time cleaning job. As Mum lived with her, she wanted the job to basically have time for herself and to earn some much needed cash. She had arranged with Social Serbices for Mum to go to a day care centre 9am - 2pm for three days a week. Her employer has been incredibly supportive and has asked her to consider working more hours as she is a good conscientious worker. However although she would love to take her employer up on the offer she cannot or she will lose her carers allowance for breaching the £100pw rule, yet still have to care for Mum for more than 35 hours a week.

A totally unfair and  unjust DWP policy and one that needs changing - NOW! Carers who work are more often than not working in either a menial minimum wage job or trying to scrabble a few pennies together becoming a self employed sales rep with Avon or Betterware. I know because as a parent
 of an autistic son I have done this job myself. The pay is pitiful, and it takes a lot of effort and often
recalls, and expenditure on petrol to do your sales round. It is time to actually face up to the fact carers have talents other than caring! There are many trapped into a life of poverty simply due to caring for disabled relatives. Our choice was taken away often overnight and careers halted and aspirations crushed. Again let's campaign to get this old narrative changed! If carers have the sheer will and guts to juggle caring with work let's financially reward their efforts, do away with this ludicrous limit on £100pw or you lose your carers allowance business, and help carers as much as we can. Carers are being broken under the current system - these heroes who save the country millions every year in care costs. The forgotten heroes. Let's fight for a system that encourages their talents and aspirations and acknowledges the huge burden of caring responsibilities.

A new system with an in built safeguard of GP and social services assesment must then seek to pay carers a realistic amount in Carers Allowance. I would boldly propose at least Minimum Wage and moving to a Living Wage, but I think a realistic starting point would be to raise Carers Allowance to a basic £100pw with annual reviews and campaigning to progress to a decent level of  payment. Once the bureaucracy is simplified, this is a realistic proposal.

So stop the empty rhetoric, the half hearted sympathy. Carers do not want your sympathy. They want a Government who recognises their value, rewards their hard work, and gives them avenues out of poverty without punishing them.

Not too much to ask eh?