Archives For Politics

The Gentrification of Trailer Park Living

Half of young people now living at home with parents, are posh caravans the answer?

Recently the Guardian revealed how 48% of Europe’s 18 to 30 year olds are now living at home with their parents. To plenty of young adults currently wondering how to find a little independence and a place of their own, these figures came as no surprise.

We’re the first generation in living memory to be told to expect a lower standard of living than our parents and our student debt is among the highest in the developed world. The little social housing left is reserved for people really in need, property prices are record high, banks aren’t leading, the energy markets are crooked and well paid jobs are few and far between.

But here’s the good news. If like so many, your only options are staying with mum and dad, or sleeping in a caravan…. the caravan is actually looking like an increasingly appealing and acceptable choice.

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Across American and via the Internet come the euphemistically named ‘tiny houses people.’ Hipster trailer park heroes seems more accurate to me. They’re currently trying, and succeeding, in making trailer park living not only comfortable, acceptable and civilised but trendy, eco-friendly and somewhat luxurious.

The idea of ‘returning’ to homes of less that 1000 squire feet has been in revival since the 1970s, but the recent resurgence and branding of the ‘movement’ only gathered pace in the US after the financial crash of 2007. It’s an architectural and social movement driven by some inventive craftsmen and designers and epitomised on a selection of popular blogs, and it’s even about to get it’s first TV show.

By drawing on knowledge from house boating, traditional cabins and caravanning, tiny house people have been creating some functional and impressive little buildings – comparatively affordable, hi-tech, efficient or even self-sufficient units. Look at these things; some are like ultimate little hideouts designed for urban free-living, rammed full of gadgets, space saving mind fucks and creature comforts.

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Admittedly life in a house the size of a traditional caravan or shipping container isn’t for everyone. Plainly many 21st century adults simply wouldn’t fit. But even if you’re modestly sized like myself, a certain lifestyle adjustment is required for life in a tiny house. The philosophy and ethos promoted by the movement is a necessary precursor – a simple, slimed down life style. Such a life style is innately eco-friendly and very, very economical.

Unlike traditional travellers who’s choice to live in caravans is due to cultural heritage, tiny house people willingly select this mode of living. But like traditional travellers, it’s often because they favor simplicity and freedom, freedom from the alienation and debilitating restrains imposed by modern consumerism and home ownership.

Despite this, rightly or wrongly, the ‘tiny houses’ identity has been so rigorously marketed by the ‘tiny house people’ because they’re keen to emerge as distinct. They want to distance themselves from the sigma and prejudice that those living in more tradition caravans are so often subjected to.

Tiny house people in the US are twice as likely to have a collage degree and don’t earn any less than your average American [Link]. They’re not people who would otherwise be out on the street, they’re people who no longer want to play the increasingly demanding game of bills, council tax and mortgage/rent. Some try to pass off their tiny houses as alternative studio-flat on wheels, but lets be frank, they’re just spectacular bourgeois caravans. They’re so affordable because just like caravans and “RVs” they don’t require building permits and the majority are readily portable.

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Such is the ‘cost of living crisis’ rent controls and regulating energy markets are now being seriously discussed in parliament. The acute housing shortage has made even finding a house difficult and property prices are eye watering, especially in the south. And if you are lucky enough to get a mortgage off the banks, you’ll be paying it back for a debilitating and depressing amount of time.

Apparently the recover has begun, and unsurprisingly it’s the property market that’s excelling itself, with no less that 6% growth. But that’s largely because the UK’s property market is little more than a monopoly board for foreign investors. Wages remain stagnant and a booming property market only benefits the people who already own the country. Our parents and grandparents made a killing on property, but entering that property market is a dream for half of young people today.

Is an incongruous idea – That some of the many young middle class adults unable to purchase property today could now adopt a mode of living once associated with poverty. Well, not really. Technology, the climate and our unbalanced society have change sufficiently to make the idea quite plausible.

The remaining questions are obviously land, and regulation? Once you’ve got yourself a cozy little house, where do you park it? Well, tiny house people gentrified the caravans so they’ve also gentrified caravan parks. ‘Tiny house villages’ are now a thing – private, exclusive, comparatively affordable little communities. It’s only a matter of time until the UK gets its first village.

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This is an Article i co-wrote with Max Daily (author of @Narcomania) for VICE.

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/student-drug-dealers?utm_source=vicetwitteruk

The article takes a comprehensive look at the phenomena of student drug dealing. It includes some in depth research and very interesting interviews.

It should hardly come a surprise that students sell drugs to each other, in fact, it should kind of be expected. Students are poor, selling drugs is very profitable and university presents a lucrative and dense market. Because of this, student dealers are often quite distance from the criminal despots who run the majority of the industry.

Research we looked at from the university of Plymouth concluded that, “because some dealers sell for minimal profit… “social supply” should become a distinct criminal offence, to differentiate the type of low-level dealer most common in universities from career drug sellers driven entirely by profit.” I think this is a really important point that needs to be observed by law makers.

Please take a read.

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This was written for the African Affairs Network of the University of Sheffield. It also appeared on my HuffPost blog.

The recent bill persecuting gay people in Uganda is caused by imperialistic Western Christian fundamentalists. 

Watching Uganda’s president chuckle as he signed into law a bill that meant life imprisonment for homosexuality and not reporting gay family members a criminal offence was chilling. Many western observers shared an intuition that the West should surely respond in swift and principled manner to this ‘odious’ bill (as Obama described it). Sweden has suspended aid to Uganda and Richard Branson has already withdrawn all investment in the country. “I urge other companies worldwide to follow suit. Uganda must reconsider or find it being ostracized by companies and tourists worldwide,”[1] he said, capturing a commonly expressed opinion held by statesmen and businessmen alike.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6ITGKyllfc

Their well-intentioned responses are misled. Ruthless economic ‘sanctions’ will indiscriminately increase poverty for all Uganda’s – gay, straight, liberal and bigoted. Cutting commercial investment will harm the economy and slashing governmental aid is futile; the vast majority is spent via NGOs, so little direct pressure will be put on the relevant legislators. However, a less draconian and potentially more effective response is available that has received little consideration in the ethnocentric and historically Christian west.

Homophobia is rife in much of Africa and homosexuality is illegal across most of the continent, so much of the western reporting has deplored this regressive law as characteristic of a distinctively African moral issue. But, particularly in the case of the much publicized and criticized law in Uganda, the problem is representative of a recognizably western, institutionalized homophobic narrative which has been financed and facilitated by politicized western religious extremists and justified by some ‘bad’ science coming out of America.[2]

A recent film by called ‘God Loves Uganda’, by Rodger Ross Willis, has exposed in detail the fundamentalists who have been traveling to Uganda in their thousands and investing vast sums of money to insure their twisted religious social agenda is enforced. The social conservatives who have been definitively losing the ‘culture war’ on ‘sexual immorality’ back in America, as gay marriage has been legalized state by state, have now intensified their efforts to spread and legislate their hatred elsewhere – and they see developing nations such as Uganda as the perfect place to install their intolerant and violent interpretation of Biblical law.

Hate preachers like Scott Lively, who have previously written how, “homosexuals [are] the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities”[3] are very active in Uganda. He was instrumental in organizing a conference about “the gay agenda… that whole hidden and dark agenda, and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family,”[4] and just one month later, a Ugandan politician with close ties to American evangelicals introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. Lively was even invited to address the Ugandan parliament for five hours to propagate his violence and hatred.

Following in their footsteps, thousands of young ‘born again’ American evangelicals have been traveling to Uganda in search of adventure whilst attempting to do something that’s “gonna blow god’s freakin mind!”[5] and they have gained influence over politics, business, education and entertainment. There’s something infuriatingly obnoxious and patronizing about white-bred, middle class kids trying to save people afflicted by poverty, war and AIDS with backward and bigoted sexual moral codes. These people and their ‘missionary work’ have “set a fire they can’t quench,”[6] and now Uganda is facing a wave of homophobic violence that these westerners are largely responsible for.

Hate preachers like Lively are in the same category as Anjem Choudary and Abu Qatada – if they were Muslim they would be swiftly labeled terrorists and reprimanded. But Lively and his accomplices like Lou Engle[7] have been permitted to continue propagating violence simply because they are ‘Christian’. During the Bush administration, many American officials actually praised Uganda’s ‘family-value policies’ and directed millions of dollars into abstinence programs.[8]

I recently blogged about the controversial and ordinarily employed term ‘islamophobia’, of which there is no equivalent term to describe and distinguish those who irrationally fear and hate Christianity from those who simply criticize it. But what is not questioned is the fact that the Christian equivalent to the term ‘Islamism’ (dominionism) is hardly evoked at all. Could this linguistic deficiency be revealing of a subliminal cultural prejudice? I think so.

Strains of politicized Islam have seen resurgence in Egypt and recently Turkey, and have received plenty of media coverage. Generally in the west Christianity is less political. But in parts of America, literalist, intolerant and explicitly political Biblical interpretations are prominent, and they are potently dangerous when exported by wealthy and influential zealots who forcefully propagate their ideology in developing, sovereign nations like Uganda.

I see little difference between some Saudi Wahabis that the West labels terrorists (because they fund extremism and violence) and the evangelical Christian fundamentalists doing the same in Uganda, but are labeled ‘missionaries’ instead. They too have an explicitly political agenda and wish to impose archaic, religious conceptions of morality upon diverse and pluralistic population. They see no place for gay people in “God’s kingdom” and have been vigorously promoting violence on the African continent, backed by millions of dollars of donations given in America churches.

Missionaries first went to Africa to “civilize” and “save” the African people. But it was an aggressive form of moral arrogance that manifested as cultural imperialism and has overwhelmed, undermined and eroded many fragile and unwritten African cultures. The American evangelical missionaries who continue this tradition today are some of the most aggressive, ignorant and dangerous yet, and are directly responsible for the Ugandan bill.

The ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims lineage back to Solomon – but European missionaries converted the vast majority of protestant and catholic Christians in Africa today. Islam swept out of Arabia in the seventh century and established a Muslim tradition across North Africa. Later, European colonialists, Victorian enthusiasts, Jesuits and now the equally self-righteous American evangelicals continue to arrived and fuel a monotheistic proxy war being fought out on African soil – a theological war that has recently become very real in the Central Africa Republic and Mali.

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President Museveni of Uganda claims he is asserting himself ‘against western imperialism’, but in reality he is promoting and fostering a pernicious western cultural import. As Jomo Kenyatta famously said, “when the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

Successful diplomatic response from the West to moral and human rights crisis in the developing world are never easy. We must strive to uphold the highly regarded principles of universal human rights, avoiding behaving like cultural imperialists of the past yet also not slide towards cultural relativism. Recent western attempts to ‘punish’ other African nations for human rights violations (such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Sudan) have not often been successful, and have simply pushed these nations closer to China.

In the case of Uganda, it would make more sense for the west to resist harsh economic sanctions that will directly increase poverty and instead address a major cause of the gay rights crisis, which is coming directly from the west. We should begin to question the naive and harmful western evangelical missionaries and punish the most dangerous hate preachers who are so pervasive and powerful in African and continue to openly fund and promote violence and homophobia.

References

This also featured on my HuffPost blog – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/liam-deacon/maajid-nawaz_b_4905802.html

Rights, Democracy and Cartoons

Last week journalists and politicians attempted to have a serious debate over a comic strip. Much ammunition was spent in the ensuing media trial of Maajid Nawaz who provoked the petition that prompted the debate. But frustratingly little of that discussion touched upon the motivating tension behind the issue. Tension derived from the controversial question of weather there is a need or democratic will to sign away certain individual rights to protect certain group rights here in the UK. Including and in particular the religious sensibilities at hand in this case.

The debate over group rights is contested, but what shouldn’t be, is the fact that calling for instant and somewhat arbitrary retributive action against a single MP candidate, who has exercised a right afforded to everyone else, just isn’t a convincing way to invite this debate into the public domain. Neither is it just or democratic.

They issue will remain controversial, but it certainly may be fair to invite the question into democratic conversation as the nation changes – to query if certain group identities might now need protecting by the curtailing of certain individual rights, such as those of Mr. Nawaz. It’s a discussion that’s been had in Canada, where the assignment of fishing rights to native ethnic groups and religious rights to particular immigrant groups has been very contentious.

Many assert that their existence creates different levels of citizenship and is ultimately divisive. The philosophical viability of group rights is sometimes rejected outright, because they are seen to utterly undermine the existence of essential universal and human rights. But supporters also argue that assigning group rights and protections in diverse democracies is essential to the survival of the distinct identities and cultures of minority groups, even if protections are only used temporarily.

I’m sure those who are really concerned with protecting religious traditionalists from cartoons are perusing the relevant lobbying or legislative pathways. But those who also lost their temper over the actions of one political figure have shown their increasing assertion of certain purported religious rights to be representative of what the opposition contends them to be – misappropriated as a tool to silence those who disagree.

A major argument advanced by those who attempted to have him ousted is that that many Muslims do not favour Mr. Nawaz or feel he is representative of them as a demographic group. This might be true; however, Mr. Nawaz’s message is that Islam is a diverse group and is not always appreciated as such. He wouldn’t claim for a moment to represent all British Muslims. He represents the change he and his organization wish to see and it is for the electorate of Hampstead and Kilburn to decide if they want him to represent them. The 20,000 signatures are entitled to be offended, but it certainly has not yet been decided by a court or in parliament that this ‘offender’ should suffer punitive measures for exercising his freedom of speech.

In terms of the Lib Dems, I would hazard a guess that it was an understanding of the importance of individual rights that led Mr. Nawaz towards his chosen party. To then witness them be so dilatory about upholding those very rights, rights they actually purport to embody, must have been despairing. Most worryingly of all, it signaled to the tiny minority who also threatened violence that their actions were productive.

All across twitter people seem to be proclaiming that, “It is now ‘legal’ for police to shoot and kill an unarmed person.”

Fortunately it isn’t. Mark Duggan may or may not have just bought a gun in the exchange the Police encountered, but there were certainly guns present.  He had many violent convictions, including firearms convictions. The intelligence was weak, but it was existent.

Remember the Met did not kill the Woolwich killers, despite them being armed. They are a very flawed institution, but the populist Police bashing the Media are indulging seems somewhat sensationalist and unfair. There are many things the Met could have done better that day, asked more question, used better intelligence or rubber bullets even. They have murdered before, but it is not fair to accuse them of Mr Duggan’s murder.

It should not be forgotten that their primary objective was to protect the general public; they failed this time, and killed a member of the public. But it was not murder and it was not, wholly, unjustified.

There were so many legit reasons to riot in 2013… this was not one of them. Young people have so many grievances this century – rising inequality, stagnating social mobility and genuine racism. But the riots were essential a material driven looting spree. They made a mockery of our generation and the ends the rioters purported to support.

Remember this hero,

This was written on the 25th of september for Canvas, an online politics journal.

http://canvas.union.shef.ac.uk/wordpress/?p=2416

The Cost of Living Crisis and Socialism

The cost of living is a lived and very visible symptom of the persisting economic slow down that the UK has suffered so acutely since banking crisis six years ago. As Kevin Bridges so eloquently put it, “When 10p crisps are costing 15p, that’s when I began to take an interest in economics.” Unfortunately none of the major parties have, as yet, promised to bring the price of 10p crisps back into line with the price implied by their name, but, ‘the cost of living crisis,’ as it’s been dubbed, is emerged as the most hotly contested policy area in the run up to the next election.

Ed Midland’s promise to freeze energy prices for 12 months was slated by many as a populist move to win electoral support that would translate very little savings into the pockets of general public – criticism that is partially deserved. It is depressingly likely that the major six energy companies will simply and unscrupulously raise their prices before and after the freeze. But it’s also a brave and progressive move by Miliband that’s sent a strong message to the shareholders controlling a dysfunctional market and engineering profits that are hard to justify.

It’s a move that has garnered insults Blair would have winced at. Ideologies have been out of fashion for over a decade, and the term Socialist has almost become derogatory in mainstream British politics. A question that is rarely asked along side such accusations however, is what is meant by ‘socialism’ used in this context? How is it we should characterises the alleged ideology? Neither Ed nor his detractors seem to have given a suitable answer to this question, so the surest answer we can get is to derive one from the policies proposals we’ve seen.

Six energy firms dominate over 90% of the market. Such is the lack of competition and the captive nature of the market they have been able raise profits in contempt of the forces of supply and demand and in line with their own desire. Despite inflation running at just 13% and wholesale gas prices plummeting by 50%, their profits have shot up 74% since 2009. Promisingly, only this morning Ed promised to intervene in other markets, such as water, were a similar rip off culture has developed.

If limiting such grotesque profits so normal people can afford to heat their homes, drink and wash is to be defined as ‘socialist’, then we must be characterising socialism in its most broad sense. Socialism as simply arranging the economy in a way that benefits the people who make up that economy, all off them. If that is what Ed is being ‘accused’ of, them he should continue to do little to deny it.

Cameron’s answer to solving the living cost crisis is his ‘help to buy’ scheme. At first glance it seems like an equally valiant attempt to address the soaring cost felt by normal people, whilst potentially curtailing the ever-growing profits raked in by shareholders. On closer inspection it fulfil neither of these criterion.

Four major Banks dominate their market in a similar way to the big six energy companies, and one of their many sins is to stop offering 95% mortgages in recent years, when buyers have needed them most. Potential homebuyers with incomes suitable to meet mortgage repayments have been stuck paying the astronomical rents of our inflated property market until they can find the £40,000 average deposited to buy a house.

Despite UK mortgages performing very well since the down turn and the banks holding so much of the responsibility for the economic mess we’re in, they’re no longer prepared to take the risk involved in offering 95% mortgages. So Cameron has offered to take that risk off of the shoulders of the poor banks and place it on the taxpayer instead. How valiant.

‘Help to buy’ is a farce; all it’s set to do is further inflate the property market as first time buyers flood the market, whilst forcing the taxpayer to accept all the risk as the banks continue to profit. If Cameron really cared about giving normal people a chance of ever owning a home he’d be building affordable homes for all, restoring local honest banking like exists in Germany and limiting foreign investors from using the UK property market like a monopoly board. But god forbid, such rational policies might be perceived as ‘socialist’.

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This was written on the 12th of september for Canvas, an online politics journal,

http://canvas.union.shef.ac.uk/wordpress/?p=2419

Mortality rates 45% higher in English Hospitals – is privatisation the answer?

Two weeks ago Channel 4 News ran a truly shocking story, which shook even the most dedicated NHS of supporters, including myself. Data they had obtained indicated that English hospitals were inferior to those in seven other developed nations. America’s much criticised insurance-based system came out on top, and was alarmingly sighted as a model for change in UK hospitals. “NHS death rates are one of worst in the West,” read the Daily Mail the next morning. By the end of the story, I for one was scared. Such startling figures genuinely made me question if whether I could trust the NHS with my life, and if growing old here, in my native country, is really as appealing as I once thought.

The source of the data was Professor Brian Jarman, and was collected secretly over more than a decade. Not only did it show our mortality rates to be the worst of the seven nations, it indicated that people over the age of 65 are five times more likely to die of pneumonia in hospital in England, and twice as likely to die from a blood infection (septicaemia) than if they were admitted to a hospital in the United States. Channel 4 claimed to have asked if anyone from the Department of Health was available to talk on the eve of the braking news. They weren’t, so they decided to continue with the on screen debate three against… zero. The defense of the NHS in the face of these damming figures was never heard.1

In the coming weeks, free market proponents in government who are currently pushing the ‘back-door,’ privatisation of the NHS will no doubt use this data to forward their agenda. The argument goes; in a system like the NHS, an absence of competition and meritocracy will invariably impact on efficiency and quality of service. As alarming as the figures were however, I quickly began to realise that the data did not prove in the slightest that the NHS is an inferior system to its privatised and semi-privatised counterparts in the other six nations. Firstly, the data is far from conclusive; It doesn’t appear to be peer reviewed, we know very little as yet about the sources and methodology used to produce these figures and nothing at all about the five other developed nations looked at – not even what nations they are.

This aside, the conclusions cannot be ignored; these figures appear to show rather unequivocally that English hospitals are under-performing. In particular, the fact that so many people seem to be getting Ill inside our hospitals indicates some hospitals may be sloppily run, comparatively undisciplined, or unclean. Much has been written about the hospital super bugs that have run rampant in British hospitals and about shock stories of dirty wards. In July of this this year a highly critical report into 14 hospitals with the highest mortality rates in the country by Sir Bruce Keogh described them as “trapped in mediocrity” ignoring concerns raised by patients and Staff.

This was echoed by professor Jarman who blamed the problems highlighted by his data on the ‘culture’ of the NHS.2 However, Keogh’s report suggested that geographical location was often a factor, in that isolated hospitals might struggled to attract the best staff. More common than that was the hindrance of quality care as a result of inadequate numbers of nursing and other staff, or an over-reliance on temporary and unregistered staff – in some cases ward staff were working 12 days in a row. Certainly, changing the ‘culture’ of the NHS will be no small task. It is one of the largest bureaucracies in the world; it’s the fifth largest employer on the planet. Public sector culture and the unaccountability and layered bureaucracy associated with it are undoubtedly factors in creating the problematic culture sighted. It has, for example, just abandoned plans to create the world’s largest single civilian computer system linking to all parts of the National Health Service. A change of culture may be needed, but changing this culture is not a simple as privatising.3

Market forces are not a quick fix and have actually been repeatedly shown to damage the NHS. Since Thatcher’s, “new public management” initiative in the 80’s, hospitals have begun to outsource cleaning (roughly 40% in 2008). The consequences have been; consistently less time spent cleaning each ward each day, higher staff turnover (less competent staff), and less control over cleaning for medically trained staff. I should like to point out those who might be thinking of giving the above argument that it is undoubtedly privatisation and market forces that have made our hospital dirty, not the other way around. Private cleaning firms were doing such a terrible job that by 2008 the Royal College of Nursing conference overwhelmingly voted for a motion proposing an end to contracting out cleaning to private firms.4

The marketisation of the NHS continued into the Blair years. The Labour Party thought they could create a market within the NHS without actually selling any of it off. Targets, quotas, and plans were put in place for most aspects of service. To meet the artificially inflated targets a number of NHS trusts allocated “The Hello Nurse,” whose sole task it was to greet new arrivals in order to claim for statistical purposes that the patient had been “seen.”5 NHS managers took wheels off trolleys too reclassified them as beds and reclassified corridors as wards in order to falsify Accident & Emergency waiting times statistics. From a wider view, hospitals are now paid by the quantity of work they do under a contract, so we see a phenomenon known as hospitals “over performing” when hospitals treat more patients than their contract allows. The “extra” patients are not extra “customers” for the hospital, they are patients with real problems that need to be treated, but the market that has been created in the NHS represents them as figures on a balance sheet and excess costs.

Explaining why private firms so often drive down standard is simple; when a private corporation wins a contract for ten years say, there is no competition for ten years, the motivation to drive costs down and increase profit margins can increase. The same has been seen to be true with rail companies running poor services and private catering companies selling harmful, but profitable foods in school. In the case of the NHS, the historic conception of the public servant proudly giving themselves and their talents to people and nation was permanently tainted. Public service became self service and so emerged the popular image of the petulant NHS working mindless ticking boxes and chasing bonuses. These systems of free choice and opportunity did not perform as the game theorists predicted, because the players cheated.

In an industry trading in the commodity of people lives, market incentives can only result in people being treated as objects and patients as customers. Customers who might one day be judged on their ability to pay, not their medical need. Even if I concede that our hospitals our are made worse by, and our death rates higher because of, our system being public sector run this does not mean that our health-care system is inferior. The primary end of any health care system should be to preserve as much life as possible – not simply to provide excellence to those who can afford it. And it is to this most important end that the NHS continues to excel in comparison to the American system.

A good demonstration of this is that whilst a woman entering an English hospital to have a baby might have a higher chance of not leaving, a US government report conducted under George W Bush found that if just routine clinical care and social services are offered, women can reduce infant mortality rates by a half to a third. This basic care is offered in the UK, by default, and things should remain that way. As is so often asserted, prevention is far more effective than treatment and by providing universal healthcare no one in this country skips vital treatment, vaccinations or check ups simply because they can’t afford it. This is why, even if sadly our hospitals perform comparably poorly; our health care system is still better. More live are saved and less money spent overall. (According to sums done by ‘Liberal conspiracy’ blog the US spends 15% of GDP on health care annually, we spend just 8%. So humanity and morality aside, a free market does not even create economic efficiency in this particular ‘industry.’)6

In the Channel 4 report, the viewer was taken to the Mayo Clinic Hospital, one of the best hospital in the world, where a doctor explained that the success of his hospital was due to putting, “the needs of the patient first.” The simple fact that he had to clarify this, that profits and payment did not rule, is telling enough. It seems obvious to me that America should have many of the very best hospitals in the world – it has a market system creating a pyramid of excellence with a few truly exceptional institutions at the top and others providing more affordable care of differing standards to those lover down. Not to mention that America is also the wealthiest of the large developed nations. To compare English hospitals to those in one of the richest yet unequal societies on earth is to miss the very point. It would be great to have the best hospitals in the world, but it’s even better to have a universal health services that can save as many lives as it can, regardless of who the patients are.

I haven’t been secretly collecting data for a decade like Professor Jarman, but I’d also like to make the logically valid point that maybe part of the reason more people die in English hospital is because more dying people end up in our hospital here. Unlike in America where, as Jeremy Hunt put it on a recent live broadcast, “they have a long tradition of letting people die at home.” This might be because they are one of the 31million American who completely lack health insurance, or even more tragically, because the crippling worry about the financial burden to be left of the shoulders of their loved ones – consider the plot of Breaking Bad had it occurred in any civilised nation but the U.S.

We’ve seen this government allow universities to set their fees up to a staggering £9000 a year. This has undermined the meritocratic values the right so vehemently professes to uphold – the best universities will now start filling up with those who can afford it, not those with the best grades. Further damage to the health care system could create an injustice even more ugly. If we go the American way not only opportunities, but people people’s very survival, will depend on their financial status within this market economy. Our health care system is necessarily inferior, but remains the moral superior. In spite of Channel 4’s harrowing and sensational report, I won’t be leaving the country any time soon.

References

1 http://www.channel4.com/news/nhs-hospital-death-rates-among-worst-new-study-finds

To ensure that my student experience is truly complete and i fully conform to the fair-weather student revolutionary stereo type, I today attend an anti-war protest. There was hardly anyone there but a few angry Yorkshire-men (and women) giving some impassioned speeches made it entertaining enough. I wrote this for the student paper.

http://forgetoday.com/news/activists-protest-against-military-action-in-syria/

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These two look baffled

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Today the Anti-war movements returned to one of its historic strong holds. This protest might not have been a huge success, in terms of turnout, but the victory had already been won in Parliament. Speeches given before the protest were revealing – victorious, but also bitter and cautious.

The protest was called by the “Stop the war coalition” who is represented in Sheffield and campaign nationwide for an, “end the occupations in Afghanistan & Palestine, against any attack on Iran or Syria, against Islamophobia, and in defence of civil liberties. The turn out was modest, as expected, after MPs voted down Cameron’s motion before it could even be debated in the commons.

James Eden of Chesterfield trade union council was clear that MPs must be “applauded” for their decision yet Nick Clegg was not so highly lauded, another speaker, Julia Armstrong of the Sheffield star, spoke of Nick Clegg’s recent “warmongering” on a visit to the offices of The Star.

Armstrong also articulated the most popular and repeated sentiment of the event – that spending money on foreign wars is irresponsible when so much suffering is currently felt at home due to financial cut backs. The event was attended by Sheffield Socialist party, Unite union and Sheffield Un-cut, all of whom where canvasing against the bedroom tax, a lack of social housing and austerity in general.

“We don’t have to make a false choice between Imperialism and supporting the Assad regime,” said Armstrong. The consensus at this event was that foreign bombs would only fuel and inflame this extremely complicated and impassion ethnic and religious civil war. Or, that punishing this one Chemical attack may appear to make the countless other ways of murdering civilians slightly more legitimate.

Bill Ronksley, who has been involved with Sheffield Peace Congress since the end of World War Two, spoke of Sheffield’s long history of peace. On the Syrian conflict and American foreign policy he proclaimed, “the world now knows where the British people stand,” and “this so called holly alliance between the UK and the US is dead.”

Those who remember how the two million strong protests and decisions of the UN were completely ignored over the Iraq war, today is a victorious one.

However Armstrong warned that David Cameron might try to support Obama in an indirect way or bring the issue back to parliament for another vote. We should “maintain the pressure of the anti war movement,” she said.

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The economy is staling, dipping below the flat line for an unprecedented third time and we’re suffering significantly more than our direct European competitors. Weather or not our current wows are due to Global forces or economic mismanagement in Westminster, It’s an open floor.
But a major part of the problem, contributing to the economic decay, is too often sidelined. The concerning state of the British work force. Our economy is technologically advanced and increasing mechanized but it’s only ever as good as the workers collecting the wages.
Two things characterize the state of that workforce. The amount and type of skill possessed by workers. The state is now trying to rectify the fact that they encouraged students to do the wrong qualifications for over a decade. They’re now bribing people to do subjects like physics and engineering, because factories are actually closing because a whole generation with 2nd class honors in media studies and PE can’t run them.
Secondly, there’s the condition of our employment laws that define that workforce’s attractiveness to industry and investment.  So much political firepower has been spent arguing weather or not we should have more competitive wages or a living wages or how easily bosses should be able to hire and fire. These are indeed delicate questions with no easy answer.
However I believe there are three areas where legislation can make an obvious improvement to the workforce. Three areas Britain has been resistant to strive for equality and efficiency in because of an employment culture that traditionally protects the privileges of the middle class; three problems that I am far from the first to highlight. But with the economy struggling as it is, and people of all background struggling to find work we have more reason than before to move against Britain’s ingrained past and use tough legislation to promote efficiency and equality. Here they are.
 Disturbances across the UK
1.      “Connections”
In the UK we have an ingrained culture and acceptance that sometimes parents, friends or relative will help another get a job. Graduates flippantly refer to this as having “connections”. One might get a job in a law firm because their Dad works there or an internship off David Cameron because you live in his village and he thinks you’re a good right-wing Oxfordshire lad, (yeah, that really happened. Dave said it “wasn’t a big deal”). The problem with this is privileged people quite often give a leg up to other privileged people and it serves as a serious barrier to social mobility. If you deny this, you’re deluded and probably very privileged, (like Dave).
So we end up with a lucky person, not the best person for the job. Most of the people who help another into a job see it as completely harmlessly helping out a family friend or loved-one and are completely ignorant of the damaging discrimination they are engaging in. Such a taboo is made over equal employment opportunities; even protected under our human rights. We have correctly made gendered titles optional on CVs and employers are quite rightly not supposed to ask about sexuality or if people have or are planning to have children. But when someone directly gives a job to a friend or assist them in getting it because they’re “connected”, the discrimination taking place is huge. You are not just discriminating against one person because of a single factor, you are discriminating unfairly against all the other candidates in favor of someone you know and personally approve of – often because they are a member of your own social or economic class. Some companies and political parties (including the Lib Dems) now insist all jobs be fairly advertised, but it’s time this was universally enforced upon all major employers by legislation.
I’m not suggesting that family trades and business should not be aloud to be passed down to the next generation; just that business and employers make sure all positions are fairly filled. Getting an internship at daddies Law firm, or any job because of your “connections”, should become as much of a taboo as not getting a job because your sexuality, say. Until we start recognizing this as an issue, elitism in the UK will remain and we will continue to have some of the worst social mobility rates in the developed world. But, more crucially for the economy and this discussion, the best people will not be in the best jobs and that means we all suffer because of their privilege and subsequent, comparative lack of competence.
2.     Internships
There has been much written about this, but it needs to be said as many times as possible. The internship system is messed up. Like, properly immoral.
As anyone currently at university will well know, a degree is no longer even close to enough to guarantee a graduate job. Thanks to a global trend, combined with New Labor’s relentless watering down of degrees (and education in general) and their reckless abandonment of purist and science-based subject, degrees are simply not worth what they used to be.
The UK is fast following the lead of the US when it comes to internships. Low or unpaid internships are becoming the norm. Graduates, already buckling at the knees under the weight of debt from the most expensive higher education system in Europe are then expected to go on to work, sometime for years, as slave labor. And the simple fact is, those of us who can’t return to Mummy and Daddies mansion after Uni, those of us who actually need to start paying our way and feeding our selves, simply can’t do this. And the result of this, once again, is worse social mobility and the privileged, not the best, people in the best jobs. The economy and the rest of us suffer for their privilege.
3.     Civil service
My God did the civil service make a racket when they learnt their pay and pension benefits would be brought into line with every other worker in the country last year. The reason is, the civil service has a long history of job benefits that they’re keen to protect. The most unexplained of these privileges is the fact that it’s practically impossible to be fired from the civil service. People just get moved around, from department to department, forever. A neighbor of mine got in via their fast track system from university. He worked his way up to management. When the RAF base closed where he was managing logistics, he got moved in to catering management. The man couldn’t even cook.
This is because most of the 532,000 civil service positions that exist in the UK today are not open to the rest of the job market. Most positions that become available can only be applied for by people already in the service, as they work their way securely up the complex grading system. I know there are serious issues about maintaining employees neutrality as they must remain non-political ‘servants’, but this is no justification for all positions having such an unfair, un-inclusive employment policy.
The main argument from the right wing against the Civil Service is that it, and any state industry, will always be innately inefficient because they lack the financial incentive and competitive structure of the private sector. There’s some truth in this. But why the hell has the government set up a system that perpetuates these innate problems. Why don’t civil servants have to compete for their jobs like every other poor bastard struggling to find employment right now? As far as I can see, there is no justification for this.
If you can tell me why employment policy is such in the civil service, please do. In the meantime (when I find time) I’m going to have a look at what they do in other countries and I’ll update the blog when I have a better understanding.

Rio the Racist

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

There’s been a lot of confusion around the initially absurd sounding quandary that Rio Ferdinand could be racist, or at least have sounded racist over twitter. Confusion, that arises from a fundamental contradiction that I have tried to articulate here.

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The BBC did an interview with a couple of young, black, arsenal football players about two nights ago. When asked if they thought Rio Ferdinand had used the term in a racist manner, their answer was along the lines of, “no, how can he be racist, he’s probably had to deal with that sort of thing all his life”, and I agreed with them. When asked weather they would find it offensive if they were called a “choc ice”, they said they would be. The problem here is, to find the comment offence he must also call Rio a racist. We cannot have the absurd situation where people’s vocabulary is restricted by their race. Because to tell a man he can’t use a certain words because he is white or Asian say, is to discriminating along racial lines, and is racist. So I came to the rather counter intuitive conclusion that yes, Rio is a racist.
These issues may sound familiar because of the paradox surrounding the N word. It is socially acceptable for black people to use it, and not so for white people. This is very understandable because of the vicious history behind the word. Black people started using the word to mock the beliefs and attitudes of their ignorant oppressors. I can understand how it must have felt liberating and good, and I think the word is set to remain, quite rightly, in black vocabulary and culture. But my generation is far detached from the generation who was using such words so derogatively. We cannot have young people today inventing words and terms that can only be used by certain races, if anything that will only create social tension. People must agree either not to use certain terms, or stop finding terms they might use themselves offensive, when said by people of other races.