RACISM IS DRIVING US MAD

First published in The New Economics Zine Issue 2

When Samara Linton worked on a mental health ward in Newham, she noticed that patients tended to look more like her own family than her medical peers. She looks at why BAME people can’t access mental health services as easily as their white counterparts – and why, when they do get support, they have lower recovery rates

The link between socio-economic disadvantage and mental health problems is well-established. In the UK, the poorest fifth of the population is twice as likely to develop mental health problems than their wealthier counterparts.

People who are unemployed are two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those in employment. One US study found that the risk of chronic mental health problems increased as unemployment rose, but noted that this was especially true for Black people in 2007 to 2011, during the heart of the economic recession.

In the UK, low-income Black and Asian families were disproportionately affected by austerity measures, losing an average of £8,407 and £11,678 respectively, each year. Tax policy, welfare and wage reforms impact BAME women in particular, who are more likely to be caring for children and older family members.

In addition to material deprivation, income inequality has negative impacts on mental health. Countries with higher levels of income inequality see a higher prevalence of mental health problems; unlike physical health, as countries get wealthier, rates of mental health problems increase.

In Kensington and Chelsea for example, average income ranges from £15,000-a-year Newham has one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the country. It also has some of the highest rates of poverty and homelessness. And it was there I used to work on a mental health ward. In the course of my job I wrote countless letters to housing support services, worried about the impact of continued homelessness on my patients’ wellbeing. I watched as welfare officers tried to guide patients through the twists and turns of the benefits system, and I pleaded with unwell patients who wanted to self-discharge be-cause their zero-hour contracts meant that while they were on the ward and unable to work, they could not receive any pay. And, as the days went by, I noticed that these people often looked more like my grandparents, my aunts, and my uncles than they did my medical peers.

People from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are more likely to experience poverty, low income, unemployment, poor housing, and homelessness than their white counterparts. This socio-economic disadvantage increases the likelihood of developing mental health problems, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of further socio-economic disadvantage.

For residents of World’s End Estate to £100,000-a-year for residents living on the other side of the King’s Road. A man living in Golborne ward can expect to live for 72 years versus 94 for a man living in Hans Town, near Harrods. As is the case across the UK, Kensington and Chelsea’s BAME residents are more likely to live in the more deprived parts of the borough, such as the northern region, where the Grenfell fire broke out. For many, this tragedy was the result of structural racism and classism, evoking anger as well as grief.

BAME people have poorer access to mental health services than their white counterparts, and even when they do gain access, they have poorer outcomes. BAME groups have higher rates of inpatient admissions, involuntary admissions, restraint, being placed in seclusion, and community treatment orders, and they have lower recovery rates than white people.

Still, the term BAME often masks the social structures, hierarchies, and intersections within its umbrella. For example, Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups have the highest levels of poverty in the UK, but Black groups are the most affected by mental health problems. Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with a common mental disorder such as

THE NEW ECONOMICS ZINE anxiety or depression, but suicide rates are highest among young South Asian women. Black men are the group most likely to be diagnosed with psychotic disorder and detained under the Mental Health Act. Eche Egbuonu, the organiser of Prison By Another Name, has bipolar disorder and frequently shares his experience of being taken to a police cell when he became unwell instead of to a safe environment for medical assessment. Shortly after being released, an altercation at his home led to the police being called. This time, he was tasered, handcuffed, and detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Like many Black men across the UK, Egbuono is distrustful of the mental health system.

Despite national initiatives to address racial disparities in mental health, these inequalities persist, and BAME people have to rely on grassroots organisations to provide the support they need. One example is Black Thrive, a Lambeth-based partnership for Black mental health and wellbeing, which aims to reduce mental health inequalities by addressing inequalities in areas such as housing, education, and employment. Another example is the Chinese Mental Health Association which runs housing and employment support projects. However, many grassroots organisations have suffered funding cuts, undermining their capacity to promote wellbeing and racial equality.

Tackling racial inequalities in mental health requires tackling the interlinked racial and socio-economic inequalities that exist in wider society. The Human Rights and Equality Commission has called for a comprehensive race strategy that includes education, employment, housing, pay and living standards, health, and criminal justice in Great Britain. A UN Special Rapporteur remarked that “the structural socio-economic exclusion of racial and ethnic communities in the UK is striking.” The government thanked the Special Rapporteur for her report but rejected her suggestion that its policies, regarding austerity, immigration and cirminal justice, further entrench racial inequality, stating simply that they are committed to the total elimination of all forms of racism.

When we refuse to see racism within its wider socio-economic and structural context, limiting its definition to explicit displays of prejudice, people suffer. When we refuse to see mental health within its wider socio-economic and structural context, increasing funding for crisis support but defunding women’s refuges, people suffer. The UK may not be 100% racist, but racism permeates through all levels of society, and, 100%, it’s driving us mad. Samara Linton is a junior doctor, writer and co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Exploring BAME mental health in the UK. She is currently working at BBC Three as a production trainee.

FURTHER READING From the Health Foundation: Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On (2020). https://www.health.org.uk/publications/reports/the-marmot-review-10-years-on From the Equality and Human Rights Commission: Healing a Divided Britain: the need for a comprehensive race equal-ity strategy (2016). https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/healing-divided-brit-ain-need-comprehensive-race-equality-strategy From the Mental Health Foundation: Poverty and Mental Health (2016). https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publica-tions/poverty-and-mental-healthFrom the Samaritans: Dying from Inequality (2017). https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/re-search-policy/inequality-suicide/From the Runnymede Trust: Intersecting inequalities: The impact of austerity on Black and Minority Ethnic women in the UK (2018). https://wbg.org.uk/blog/intersecting-inequalities-impact-austerity-bme-women-uk/

Wellbeing and GDP: explained

The New Economics Zine Issue 2

Focusing on wellbeing over economic growth could transform our economy – but it also has some blind spots. By Annie Quick

28 October 2020

“The goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing,” said Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this January, in a speech where she said that wellbeing should be as fundamental as gross domestic product (GDP).

It’s always encouraging to see politicians challenging GDP as the primary measure of economic progress. But while calls to think more about wellbeing can be a force for progressive change, they aren’t necessarily so.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the new economy movement embraced the idea that wellbeing, rather than economic growth, should be the primary goal of economics. During these years, the grip of neoliberal economic orthodoxy was tight. Those thirsty for a new economic vision seized upon the suggestion that we could entirely reboot our economic system around wellbeing, rather than economic growth. 

As more and more people woke up to the challenge of the climate crisis, wellbeing was a new way to think about progress which didn’t rely on endlessly buying and consuming more stuff. The hope was that, if economics adopted wellbeing as a primary indicator then the implications would be transformative.

Wellbeing research shows that increasing the income of the worst off can create massive wellbeing improvements, while increasing the income of the already wealthy could have no impact at all. Wellbeing research also demonstrates the importance of security of work and housing, and the value of working shorter hours. Such findings all pointed away from the neoliberal orthodoxy and towards a transformative, redistributive economic agenda.

In 2010, however, the Coalition government embraced wellbeing alongside the Big Society and ​‘social action’. Phrases like ​‘community resilience’ and ​‘bounce-back-ability’ (the latter something I’ve heard used more than once by policy types, with no sense of irony) suggested that individuals and communities are responsible for improving their own wellbeing. This mentality says we can boost our wellbeing by pulling our socks up, doing some cognitive behavioural therapy and building a community garden.

This formulation of the wellbeing agenda can be not only misleading but deeply damaging. Headlines like ​“Happiness depends on health and friends not money” are deeply insulting to the 14 million people living in poverty in the UK today. Many wellbeing advocates prescribe mindfulness or volunteering, but finding the time, resources and motivation for those things isn’t easy when you’re living in a cold and overcrowded home, working two jobs to make ends meet, or fighting an increasingly punitive benefits system. All the while, these messages suggest that if you’re not happy, it’s basically your fault.

Crucially, the focus on wellbeing as something we possess and control as individuals gives little space for understanding oppressions, such as those based on class or race – oppressions that are enmeshed with Britain’s colonial history while being reinforced all the time by austerity and our criminal and education systems.

What wellbeing initiatives often lack is a real analysis of power. Many of the drivers of poor wellbeing are built into our neoliberal economic system that, since the 1980s, has been designed and maintained by the wealthy for their own interests. Too often, charities, academics and policy initiatives sidestep the question of power when making the case for the measurement and pursuit of wellbeing as a primary goal of economic policy.

At its best, wellbeing can be a powerful framework for a radically new economic vision. But in order to unleash this potential we need a clear power analysis: an understanding of whose interests are served by our current economy and what it will take to rebalance it. At a national policy level, that means looking at inequalities in wellbeing and supporting policies that can change the structural, upstream causes of poor wellbeing, such as poverty, precarity and ingrained racism.

Having a power analysis is just as important for wellbeing work at a local level. Many community wellbeing initiatives focus on bringing people together to take local action. Many have used NEF’s Five Ways to Wellbeing as a framework to think about these activities: being active, connecting, giving, learning new things and taking notice. These initiatives can provide an important opportunity to help build the social connections and collective control needed to create systemic change from the bottom up. However, on their own, the Five Ways to Wellbeing aren’t going to tackle predatory loans, the housing crisis or local authority cuts.

Initiatives that rely on people coming forward to volunteer their time often help the already privileged, mirroring power structures in the rest of society. However, the outcomes of these activities aren’t necessarily progressive. A few years back, people on our street came together to clear an overgrown area in a local park and create a playground for kids. The result is cute – handmade benches and donated toys suggest a model community initiative. Their motivation? Local sex workers had been using the area for work, and residents wanted to clear them out. No one, as far as I know, talked to the sex workers about any of these plans. Apparently, they don’t count as ​‘the community’.

Even where community initiatives are genuinely inclusive and diverse, it’s perfectly possible for people to improve life for some in the short term without tackling the underlying causes of inequality and poor wellbeing. Learning from the progressive traditions of community organising and community development, we need a better understanding of what turns, for example, a local play scheme into a group fighting against local cuts to children’s services. We need an analysis both of power inequalities within our communities, and a power analysis of the elite economic systems we’re up against if we’re going to create a real wellbeing revolution.

Annie Quick led NEF’s work on inequality and wellbeing until 2018.

Book review by Dave Young

The Hastings & St Leonards non-profit community newspaper

Casting light and bringing hope

September 22, 2020

Book review by Dave Young

The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness by Bruce Nixon has two immediately obvious attributes: positivity and accessibility.

Many recent tomes documenting the current ecological crisis have been incisive in diagnosing the problem, yet less assured in proposing remedies.  No wonder, the complex and interrelated economic and environmental problems of the planet have accrued over many years of industrialisation, and laissez-faire government policy; fixing all that is a tall order.

In contrast this book features short chapters, punchy paragraphs and a range of strategies from someone with direct experience of the private sector; who ultimately will need to be co-opted into any systemic remedies.

Bruce Nixon is a self-described: “veteran change agent, author, writer, speaker, facilitator and activist, former development consultant and business schoolteacher”. He is also part of his local Transition Town steering group. There’s a full and fascinating biography at www.brucenixon.com

In the book, Nixon confronts failures of political leadership
and makes a cogent case for fundamental changes to current democratic structures in order to support community-based environmental policy formulation. A new kind of politics based on an incisive and informative geopolitical analytical model he terms ‘systemic thinking’. 

“The greatest obstacles are the lack of farsighted, courageous leaders who are well-informed and will speak the truth, together with disempowered citizens who think there is nothing they can do.

“People (are) concerned about the unprecedented challenges facing humanity: Climate chaos, ecocide, economic and social injustice… 

“All over the West, neoliberal economic ideology, austerity, consumerism, free-market capitalism and top-down politics are being challenged, especially by younger people. The internet is transforming politics by facilitating dialogue and giving power to people. 

“We face the biggest challenges in our history. Science and technology will not help us unless we are determined to act urgently on the need to tackle climate chaos, conserve a living planet, resolve gross economic inequality and break entrenched power structures.”

First published in 2016 when it was awarded the Oxford Alumni book of the year accolade, this book offers ways forward and practical solutions based on ideas from an impressive range of people and institutions, such as the Electoral Reform Society, Global Justice Now and the New Economics Foundation – advocates of the Green New Deal. As Nixon says: “It will help you decide how you want to engage with others in creating a better world through a peaceful revolution. Above all it will give you hope.”

Published by Acorn Books, £9.99, PB, 300 pages.

Good News

Challenges and Opportunities

 

If don’t know about you, but I often wake up depressed. Apart from the deaths of many dear ones, Covid 19 has inflicted hardship on millions of people. In my case, I find it hard being unable to hug our two little grandsons who live nearby. Nor can I hug my best friends. Touch is important for humans. Also I can’t go to the Fitness Room or my favourite Greek café to read, get cheery greetings and meet new people. Nor can I go to meetings in London, give talks or sell my books. So like many others, I can’t earn anything. However, I participate in many hope giving webinars. There is no doubt that many people are suffering from depression. Often, my depression tells me there is something I need to do.

So how can we keep ourselves cheerful and optimistic? Before I start work I go for a nature cure by walking round the garden. Sometimes, my wife and I give each other what I call a “good listening to” for just seven minutes each way. I learned the value of this from a course in co-counselling.

Much of the news in the media is bad news. It’s about what’s going wrong. That is essential information that provides the basis for reform and innovation. But there has to be a balance. I have no doubt in my mind that good predominates. Love, not hate, is the dominant force. There is always more good news than bad. So I read Positive News that was created to counteract the false picture the media creates and is about what is going right.  Resurgence Ecologist is also inspiring.  

In some cases, the challenges are so great that they are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. For example it may be a long time before dictators like Russian President Putin, who bumps off his opponents by poisoning them, will be unseated – see Can Vladimir Putin Be Prevented from Killing His Political Opponents? Another dictator who may be in power for life it may be argued is Chinese President Xi Jinping . Mike Bloomberg argues that the Chinese Communist Party has a big stake in learning what the Chinese public thinks and providing some of what it wants. Limited forms of public engagement can help reduce corruption and improve compliance with regulations. Xi Jinping continues to mistreat minorities . Then there is Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator whose government has allegedly killed at least 31,000 in directly confirmed deaths and possibly as many as over 96,000 in projections. Surely he is a war criminal.

 

I am passionately European and Internationalist. I delight in being a European. Having graduated, at twenty years old I migrated to USA. Soon I decided that I am a European and returned to the UK. The European Union, despite its flaws, represents what I most value which is collaboration with other European countries. Europe has a vital part to play in the world. It is a force for high standards for food and other products which require a level playing field and for democratic government – particularly at a time when there are swings to the right.

Lack of democratic legitimacy If you are in any doubt about the lack of democratic legitimacy, read Peter Geoghegan’s Democracy for SaleDark Money and Dirty Politics . At the end of this book the author says there is a huge opportunity for change. But we’ll have to wait for four years for there to be the chance of a good legitimate government. See too what Unlock Democracy and the Electoral Reform Society say about the need for democratic reform. The UK economy will be severely damaged if there is a no-deal Brexit – IMF . See below for another estimate. And that is in addition to the effects of Covid 19.

Brexit is not the will of the people, as claimed. It was the will of some of the people. By international standards, David Cameron’s referendum was not conducted properly, as I have argued elsewhere . The vote in favour of Brexit was in part a symptom of major economic problems in former industrial heartlands, long neglected by successive governments for over a generation. Crucially, the younger you are, and the more educated, the more likely you are to value membership of the EU.

Brexit was the mission of a covert group – the European Research Group (ERG) which took over the government and is inflicting Brexit on the nation. This is revealed by Open Democracy in this article Revealed: the files that expose ERG as a militant “party within a party”. Documents released following openDemocracy’s transparency victory reveal European Research Group’s “highly partial” taxpayer-funded output. This abuse of our democracy will only lead to stronger demands for electoral reform and a written constitution. Most advanced countries have a written constitution.

Boris Johnson and his colleagues misled ordinary people into believing that Brexit would benefit them whereas it was likely to cut GDP by at least 7%. He expelled Tory MPs who were Remainers and created a government of Brexiteers. He even planned to prorogue Parliament in order to get his way. This was ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court  . And he was prepared to break international law. The Justice Secretary said he would resign if the UK Government broke the law “in a way that I find unacceptable” .

According to one poll, most British people would now wish to remain in the EU. Just 35% of British people still support Brexit with 57% wanting to re-join. Almost 60% of people now want Britain to re-join the EU compared to the 48% who backed Remain in 2016.

 Good News

The reality is that all these challenges are opportunities.

 

Although Covid 19 leading to tragic deaths it is also creating opportunities for better ways of life. For instance it has led to more working from home, more walking, more cycling and more contact with nature. It is also accelerating existing trends such as shopping on line, changing the nature of high streets and, even better, reducing the use of large scale shopping centres with the pollution and congestion resulting from the use of cars.

We need to go beyond the idea of restoring normal. If we are to save our planet and create a fair world, we have to give up GDP-Gross Domestic Project – as a measure of progress. Increasing GDP accelerates destruction of our planet home. Sir David Attenborough’s stark warning below. New normal is a wonderful opportunity to do better. New normal needs to focus on the wellbeing of all . New Zealand has ditched Gross Domestic Product and adopted the Happiness Index instead. Businesses would gain $2.1 Trillion by embracing Low-Carbon Technology.

There is a vast amount citizens can do independently of government, and that’s how most change happens. Indeed most change in a flourishing society like ours comes from “below” not top down. Frequently government is the greatest obstacle to positive change and citizens have to campaign. Indeed there are thousands of campaigns, supported by people like you and me.  Many spheres owe little or nothing to government: a nation’s innovations, industries, inventions, culture, beautiful cities, towns, villages and countryside.

Citizens, ordinary and extraordinary, are the main creators of a good society. Of course governments can do immense harm as is the case in the United Kingdom now. They can also be a powerful influence for good as the case in case Angela Merkel’s Germany and Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand and the post – war Clement Attlee British government which created the Welfare State and the NHS, both models for the western world.

Sir David Attenborough’s campaign is another example of what a citizen can do, although he is far from ordinary. Here is another example: Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have joined forces to launch what they hope will become the “Nobel Prize for environmentalism” . They say the search is on for 50 solutions to the world’s gravest environmental problems by 2030. With £50m to be awarded over a decade, the Earthshot Prize is the biggest environmental prize ever.

Anyone could win, said the Prince, as he called for “amazing people” to create “brilliant innovative projects”. The Earthshot Prize is his and Sir David’s effort to ensure we hand the planet on to our children and grandchildren “in a better state than we found it.” During the conversation Prince William said the launch of the new prize marks the moment he takes up the baton of environmental campaigning from his father Prince Charles.

 

The biggest challenge facing us is our survival. In his new film, Extinction The Facts , 94 year old Sir David Attenborough looks back at his astonishing broadcasting career, which began in 1952 at the BBC. He offers a blueprint for our survival. With a million species at risk of extinction, David Attenborough explores how this crisis of biodiversity has consequences for us all, including putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid 19.

He says humanity is at a crossroads but it is not too late to prevent this catastrophe. We can still do lots to help tackle the ­climate crisis .

Since 1970, he argues, there has been a sixty percent decline in small animals and three quarters of large animals have disappeared. Of the estimated eight million species on Earth, a million are now threated with extinction. Vertebrate animals – birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians – have declined by 60%. 30%of land is degraded. 20% of plants are threatened with extinction. Paradoxically we are causing both floods and shortages of water. Five hundred plant species have disappeared. Yet the diversity of plants provides an insurance against the loss of species we have depended on.

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have joined forces to launch what they hope will become the “Nobel Prize for environmentalism”. They say the search is on for 50 solutions to the world’s gravest environmental problems by 2030. With £50m to be awarded over a decade, the “Earthshot Prize” is the biggest environmental prize ever.

 

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have set themselves the dizzyingly ambitious goal of “repairing the planet by 2030”. So where will the potentially planet-saving ideas they want come from? The answer is we just don’t know – you might have an idea that, with a bit of publicity and cash, we could reshape our world. Which is why awarding prizes can be so effective: we can all apply. The renowned broadcaster says the excesses of capitalism must be “curbed” to help nature.

Greta Thunberg, now 17, said No One Is Too Small to make a Difference. A proposed new Northumberland Coal mine was blocked by protestors  

Another champion for our planet was the late Polly Higgins. She decided the Earth needed a lawyer. She called on everyone to dare to be great – see her book I dare you to be great Sadly she died in 2019 aged only fifty.

Greta Thunberg, now 17, said No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference and created the world-wide extinction rebellion. A proposed new Northumberland Coal mine was blocked by protestors .

Here is another example of a citizen initiative. Run in partnership with The Trussell Trust, DENS Foodbank in Hemel Hempstead can provide up to three food parcels to anyone who is struggling in the community.

 

Children use their power. Lego to ditch plastic bags after children call for change, Lego will start replacing plastic packaging with paper bags from 2021 as the toy brick maker aims to become more sustainable .

Lego said it had been prompted by letters from children asking it to remove single-use plastic bags. Lego would be investing up to $400m (£310m) over three years to improve its sustainability efforts.  Lego bricks themselves are made of plastic, although the company is exploring alternative materials. “We have received many letters from children about the environment asking us to remove single-use plastic packaging,” Lego Group chief executive Niels B Christiansen said.

Close up of Lego blocksLego – Getty Images

Renewable energy is now the cheapest option – even without subsidies. This is the work of scientists and entrepreneurs. In recent years, the world has marched towards renewable energy. According to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), unsubsidized renewable energy is now most frequently the cheapest source of energy / . The report finds that the cost of installation and maintenance of renewables, which was an important stumbling block to mass adoption, continues on a downward trajectory.

Black Lives Matter The murder of George Floyd  had an enormous effect not only in USA but throughout the world including the United Kingdom. The media here exposed the extent that people of colour suffer from assumptions made about them. If you wish to learn more read Why I’m no longer talking to White People about Race . There has been a lot in the media lately about how unaware racism affects the chances of young people in getting into a top university, getting a good degree, getting a good job and getting arrested.

Renni Eddo-Lodge’s splendid book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People about Race describes the intolerable racialism that Black people face and compares it to class prejudice.

She says I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race. Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences”. She regards the Grenfell Tower catastrophe as another case.

 

A wholesale race equality strategy is needed to tackle the structural inequalities and institutional racism. October is Black History Month and Sir Keir Starmer has this to say: I have immense admiration for the Black Britons who have helped shaped our country’s history and culture. It was clear from early on that this pandemic was disproportionately affecting people from the Black community. We are at a historic point in the fight for racial equality and it deserves immediate action, not another review. Ultimately, I believe what we need is a wholesale race equality strategy to tackle the structural inequalities and institutional racism which still exists .

The way ahead for politics is hopeful. Although it may not seem like it now, the way ahead for politics is hopeful. Instead of adversarial politics, collaborative politics may emerge. A progressive alliance between Labour, the Green Party and Liberal Democrats is possible. As more women become MPs collaboration may become more likely. Their behaviour in general is significantly different and in my view more constructive. Do men and women communicate differently in the House of Commons?

Their full representation is essential as they have a different and much needed perspective.

If you wish to play a part in bringing about these changes, apart from those already mentioned, here are some more organisations you might like to support. You can support them actively in all kinds of waysYou can support them actively in all kinds of ways such as donating, signing petitions, spreading the word or helping in the office.. Here are some examples:

  • Climate assembly UK The UK is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Climate Assembly UK brought together 100+ people from all walks of life and of all shades of opinion to discuss how the UK should meet this target .
  •  The World Wide Fund for Nature For many years, WWF has worked with the Southern Ocean Commission (CCAMLR) to protect the most critical habitats for iconic species such as whales, penguins, seals, seabirds and their prey – tiny Antarctic krill. In the Southern Ocean, CCAMLR has made a commitment to implement a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica, to protect a range of wildlife impacted by climate change including areas where whales feed on tiny Antarctic krill. WWF works with scientists to provide important information to help governments protect these crucial foraging areas .
  • Climate assembly UK We’re Fighting for Your World. We’re determined to stop the destruction of nature and help it to recover. We’re focusing on some really big challenges that will help turn things around and making the food system sustainable. We are Climate assembly UK .
  • Schools sustainable energy programme We give students engagement tools, programs, and training to help them gain the skills to become sustainability leaders in their communities .

I am an author, writer and speaker. In normal times, I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics.

If you value what you have read, please spread the word.

The Worst of Times and the Best of Times*

*With apologies to Charles Dickens

 

Covid 19 has had tragic consequences. Many people, especially older people, have died or become extremely unwell. Families have lost loved ones. Life is hard for people who have had to self-isolate and do not have gardens into which they can invite loved ones or friends. On the other hand, for some of us our lives have been transformed partly in benign ways. In some ways, I see this as a benign time in which humanity has opportunities to make great progress.

 

We are discovering new ways of working and living that may benefit us and our planet. Our shopping, working habits and ways of travelling have probably changed permanently.

 

When the lockdown first occurred, I felt a wonderful sense of peace and stillness. There was little noise from cars or aeroplanes. There were fewer trains on the nearby railway. It was a wonderful peace. As never before, I heard the sounds of Mother Nature: the wind in the trees, the rustling of leaves and the sounds of birds. We could more easily hear the happy sounds of our neighbours’ children playing. The beautiful sky could be seen in all its different moods.

 

We got to know our neighbours better. On one side of our house, there are West End performers, who can no longer work. They have invested in a swimming pool. It was lovely to hear them, their daughter and her best friend, splashing about in the pool and having fun on their trampoline. I got bolder and talked and laughed with them over the hedge. People were kind and did shopping for us. Fairly soon a Whats App group formed in our road, nearly fifty households. We made new friends and got to know others better. We communicate about things people want to give away for instance or simply joke about this and that. On Thursday evenings we had fun clapping from our windows for the NHS. Hitherto the Pakistani family at the top of our road had kept themselves to themselves. At last, we got to know them. They were violently robbed and the father was severely injured. We got together and gave them a huge bunch of flowers.

 

I’ve had to give up my work: giving talks, going to meetings in London and selling books. So I am unable to earn anything. However I continue to post blogs. Instead of going to meetings in London, facing all the stress of travelling in and out of London on crowded trains, I take part in webinars. Compass events, once a week, have been particularly valuable. I also took part in the New Economics Foundation webinar. Of course, there are disadvantages: I do not get to meet new people and I cannot give participative talks.

 

Zoom Our weekly yoga class continues on Zoom. Suzanne, my wife/partner, and I participate in my study. I like this arrangement: instead of having to walk home on a busy street after feeling so peaceful, we just go downstairs. We also have family zoom gatherings. On my birthday, the whole family, including my son and daughter – in – law in Hong Kong, were together for an hour on the screen of Suzanne’s computer at the kitchen table. We have similar meetings with friends.

 

Many important issues have re-emerged since Covid 19 took hold earlier this year: We need to see these challenges as opportunities to build a better Britain.

 

The appalling situation of underpaid staff in care homes, without proper protection from infection; the need for care homes to be a part of the NHS and the long term underfunding of the NHS leading to the extreme difficulties when a health crisis such as Covid 19 strikes. The current increased abuse of women by their male partners.

 

Unhealthy food and life styles, obesity, its contribution to ill-health and the need to encourage walking and cycling have come to the fore. The Prime Minister has emphasised their importance through his own slimming programme.

 

The need for an economy that works for everyone. We have an unbalanced economy both geographically and with a large financial services sector and a small manufacturing sector. Governments have failed to address the long term poverty in former industrial heartlands for over a generation. Job insecurity and the gig economy add to the problem. Inequality in terms of income and wealth in the UK is one of the highest amongst advanced countries  . Poverty and the huge gap between rich and poor prevail – both incomes and wealth. The adverse position of women underpaid compared with men, especially mothers without a partner, results in their being disadvantaged for their whole lives.

 

UK’s housing stock ‘needs massive retrofit to meet climate targets. The need for a mass housing refurb, affordable housing and social housing are important opportunities. New research by the Institution of Engineering and Technology and Nottingham Trent University has found that meeting government targets of 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century would require sweeping policy change. Hundreds of millions of pounds must be spent to achieve 80% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a report shows. Housing energy use is responsible for 27 per cent of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Our current rate of building new energy efficient homes is very low compared to the size of the existing stock, which means that approximately 70 per cent of our energy inefficient housing will still be in use in 2050. Some estimates show that at our current rates of demolition the average house may have to last 1,000 years before it is replaced.

 

Democracy We need to devolve power from Westminster and adopt proportional representation. Our parliament is unrepresentative. Elected without proportional representation, our governments lack legitimacy. Furthermore the role of the European Research Group and Aaron Bank’s role is highly questionable .

Incidentally, would we benefit from representation of all stakeholders on company boards as in Germany?

 

As countries respond to COVID-19, female leaders seem to have a leadership style better suited to responding to the crisis than that of their male counterparts – see Do men and women communicate differently in the House of Commons?

It is interesting that hitherto Germany and New Zealand have done better, and in Scotland the messages from Nicola Sturgeon are more clearly communicated.

This confirms the importance of equal numbers of female and male MPs.

 

This confirms the importance of equal numbers of female and male MPs.

 

Why do we tolerate ministers, unprepared for their role such as George Osborne with his economically illiterate imposition of years of austerity and with dire consequences? I am not alone in arguing in my book The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness that MPs and Ministers should have an education programme before taking up their roles.

 

Global warming and destruction of our habitat Our contribution to global warming and destruction of our habitat  and other species is of the greatest concern. In his Chair’s message in the State of Natural Capital Annual Report 2020, Professor Dieter Helm says there is very little evidence of improvements in the state of England’s natural environment over that of previous generations and there is a very real danger that this could condemn the next generation to a poorer economy and environment. The report says that in order to meet the 2011, objective to be the first generation to improve the environment, the government must strengthen and reintroduce the various essential Bills into parliament as a priority.

 

Black Lives Matter went mainstream after Floyd’s death. The killing of George Floyd had a huge impact in the United Kingdom. Now Jacob Blake, another Black American has been shot by the police . One example of unconscious racism, and there are many, is the case of a black bank manager who was arrested. He says he was wrongfully targeted by officers, and faced accusations of money laundering, terrorism and trafficking in an investigation which lasted more than two years before being dropped with no apology. He is to sue Metropolitan Police for racial discrimination after 26-month nightmare  . This kind of racism is extremely common and often affects innocent young black people There is stark evidence of everyday racial bias in Britain. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick in denying that her force is institutionally racist, appears to be in denial. Unaware racism is an issue of the utmost importance. We need to look into ourselves. Tackling tackle racism is a top priority.

 

David Olusoga, historian, broadcaster and writer has called for a structural change in the U.K. television industry to bring about inclusiveness, but has also warned about the “lack of trust” the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic community has for the existing system after 30 years of neglect. “We need to make structural changes, not merely seek to bring black and brown people into a system that has historically failed them.”

 

There has been much debate about the extent to which Britain took part in and benefitted from slavery. When I visit stately houses or walk round Clifton in Bristol I am always aware that these beautiful buildings were funded by slavery. The toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue was a multiracial protest.

 

Clearly some countries are better managed than others. But what citizens do makes an enormous difference.

As the late Polly Higgins advocated, we need to “Dare to be great”.

 

If you wish to take action, here are some organisations to support and learn from: Black Lives Matter UK , Hope Not Hate , The New Economics Foundation, Global Justice Now, The Soil Association, GM Freeze, Garden Organic, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace,Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Wildlife Trusts, Compassonline, Build Back Better, The Resolution Foundation’s Economic policy beyond the lockdown, Shelter, Joseph Rowntree Foundation – inspiring social change, Basic Income, Universal Basic Services, Unlock Democracy, The Electoral Reform Society, The Constitution Unit, University College London, Education Policy Institute, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, The Kings Fund, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Citizens Assembly Project, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Peace Direct, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote and 38 Degrees, an online campaigning organisation, involving more than 2 million people from every corner of the UK.

And Lobby your MP.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. In normal times, I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics.

 

If you value what you have read, please spread the word.

 

 

Synopsis of The Production of Money – How to Break the Power of Bankers by Ann Pettifor

This is an inspiring book. It is short, bold and thought provoking. First published in 2017, revised in 2018, it is full of insights on this most important subject. Since it was written, global economies have been totally overturned by Covid19 and the book is even more relevant. Ann validates and draws on John Maynard Keynes’s ideas. In the synopsis below I  try to capture the key arguments.

The chapter titles indicate clearly what it is about:

  1. Credit Power
  2. The Creation of Money
  3. The “Price” of Money
  4. The Mess We’re In
  5. Class Interests and the Moulding of Schools
  6. Should Society Strip Banks of the Power to Create Money?
  7. Subordinating Finance, Restoring Democracy
  8. Yes, We Can Afford What We Can Do

Chapter 1 Credit Power

The global finance sector exercises extraordinary power over our society and government. They dominate policy making and undermine democratic decision making. The private commercial banking system creates 95 percent of our money in various forms while the central bank issues only about 5 percent or less. In the UK the financial sector has expanded vastly and detached itself from the real economy which has declined. Economic power has been transferred away from government whose role is to create the money needed for public good. One of the consequences was the great financial crisis of 2007 – 2009. Ignorance of how money is created poses great dangers, not least the need to manage or regulate finance in the interests of society as a whole and the environment.

Chapter 2 The Creation of Money

The good news: The miracle of a developed monetary economy is this savings are not necessary to find purchases or investments. Those entrepreneurs or individuals in need of funds for investment need not rely on finance from individuals that set aside their income in their savings bank or under the mattress. Instead they can obtain finance from a private commercial bank. This availability of finance in a monetary economy is in contrast to a poor, under-developed, non-monetary economy where savings are the only source of finance for investment, and where inevitably, there is no money for society’s most urgent needs.

To sum up: in a monetary economy saving is different from the business of building up a surplus of corn, and then lending it on. The corn can be saved without it ever affecting others. However, saving in an economy based on money always “affects others” because it is always an act that sets up a financial relationship with others: a claim. The borrower has a duty to pay back the loan. It is the case that if savings in an economy are to expend then it will be necessary for debt to expand too. It is when debt exceeds the capacity to repay, that it becomes a burden on individuals, firms and the economy as a whole. To avoid the exploitative nature of debt that two conditions must prevail. First, the interest on loans should be low enough to ensure repayment. Secondly, loans should be made for activities judged to be productive and likely to generate employment and income. Ideally, lending for   activity other than this, should be discouraged or banned. As Keynes argued, what we create, we can afford. The credit system enables us to do what we can do within the physical limits of imposed by our own, the economy’s and the ecosystem’s resources. That is the good news. A well-developed monetary system can finance very big project, projects whose financing can finance whose financing would far exceed an economy’s total savings squirrelled away.

Unfortunately, western democracies have not used their existing power to control rekless national financiers and speculators. Instead, elected governments allowed global financial corporations to move capital offshore and across borders to create credit without over-sight, regulation, taxation or restraint and amass astonishing amounts of wealth. The Bretton Woods era, (1945-71) was a time when, thanks to John Maynard Keynes, the financial system was made to work largely in the interests of society. It has to be said that this is largely true of Germany’s multi-tiered banking system.

Chapter 3 The “Price” of Money

The rate of interest on credit charged for economic activity is fundamental to the health of an economy. Rates that are too high stifle enterprise and ultimately render debts unpayable. However in the neoliberal era, under Mrs Thatcher, rates of interest rose steadily. Between1971 and 1974 credit fuelled inflation: a 35% rise in consumer prices and 79% rise in import prices. For the next thirty years, high interest rates periodically bankrupted many individuals, firms, industries and economies, leading to unemployment, culminating in the 2007-9 crash. Little has been done since then to remove control from commercial banks.

The development of banking and sound monetary systems should have ended the power of any elite to extract outsized returns from borrowers. However, elected government had conceded despotic power to financial capital.

Now of course all this is turned on its head and is history. Government borrowing is phenomenal sums in order to tackle the consequences of Corvid 19.history for the time being. Extraordinary sums are being borrowed.

Chapter 4 The Mess we’re In

At the time when this was written, before Covid 19 emerged, the world and Britain, in particular, was in a mess its government having decided to leave the European Union, its largest and nearest market.

Anna Coote said: We live in turbulent political and financial times, and in a global economy dogged by failure. We survive precariously on a planet warmed by human –induced greenhouse gas emissions and disturbed by human-induced mass extinction. The financial system is currently volatile, corrupted and widely discredited. Scandals of mis-selling, theft, manipulation and fraud abound. And the cry “there is no money” for care for the elderly, the mentally ill, or for social housing; none for or for public investment in water conservation, renewable energy, flood defences, the retrofitting of old, energy leaking properties , or other investments designed to protect society from climate change.

There is a chorus that “there is no money” and an argument that public debt ought not to be used.

Chapter 5 Class Interests and the Moulding of Schools

The first part of this chapter is an account of the moulding of economic thought. Staggering as it may seem, she argues, the overwhelming majority of mainstream economists do not understand the nature of credit and money or the wider financial system. Policies based on a vacuum in economic theory still prevail in western treasuries. While the resulting finance economy remained intact, according to the International Labour Organisation, around 200 million people were made unemployed in 2015 and the Middle East and North Africa had the highest youth unemployment in the world. Europe, with obstinately high levels of unemployment, faced frightening political tensions and division sand the rise of right- wing, even fascist parties.

Dominant schools of thought have led to vast capital gains for financial elites but prolonged failure of the global economy and rising inequality.

After World War 2, acceptance of John Maynard Keynes’s thinking (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Maynard_Keynes) that the monetary system should be steered away from serving class interests and serve the needs of society as a whole, led to the Golden Age (1947-71) near full employment and unprecedented narrowing of income distribution. But this did not endure. Dear money was restored in 1980 and since then advanced economies have endured high levels of unemployment, periodic financial crises and severe instability culminating in the global financial crisis of 2007-09. Unpayable debts are more likely to build up under dear money. Politicians do no more than build up political capital – “we’re balancing the books”, “living within our means.”

Chapter 6 Should Society Strip Banks of the Power to Create Money?

Ann Pettifor is opposed to the Positive Money Movement https://positivemoney.org/our-proposals/sovereign-money-creation/ which proposes Sovereign Money Creation as a way of paving the way for a Sustainable Recovery. She applauds their taking aim at reckless greedy bankers. But she believes the public need to be involved and that would not be the case if these decisions were taken centrally and for banks to be constrained in lending and for firms and individuals to be constrained in borrowing. To remove this public involvement at a micro level in the creation of the nation’s money supply, and instead rest this power with a small committee would be steps on the road to autocracy.  However, Ann argues, there is no reason why society should not aspire to building a gift based- economy for clean air and a safe environment. The closest we have come to this is free education, a free Health Service, subsidised housing etc.

The creation of a socially just monetary system that enables us all to do what we can do, and be who we can be should be the aim of any progressive movement. 

Human – induced climate change represents a major threat to a liveable future. It will require above all a great deal of finance, for example to transform transport, erect flood defences, retrofit ageing housing or to make buildings more energy efficient. Employment will generate income with which to repay the credit or debt. Fundamental to any attempt to wrest power back from financial markets must be greater understanding of the nature credit, money creation and the monetary system as a whole. That is what this book is about.

Chapter 7 Subordinating Finance, Restoring Democracy

Finance capital’s “despotic” power over the world’s nations has led, since the 1970s to a series of ongoing financial crises, and to the build-up of mountains of private, unpayable debts. These have inflicted grave costs – human, ecological as well as economic – on whole societies. The US Treasury estimated that 8.8 million jobs were lost in the US alone, and $19 trillion of household wealth was destroyed during the 2007-09 crisis. But finance capital’s power has done more: it has hollowed out democratic institutions, as those powers that have the allocate resources have been privatised. This helps explain why the costs of crises have not been borne, on the whole by the finance sector. Most financiers were bailed out after the 2007-09 crisis. Those who have paid the price, directly or indirectly, include, include tax payers, the unemployed, bankrupted small and large firms and the homeless. The affordability of homes has been adversely affected. Western social democratic and conservative parties also paid a high price for their neo-liberal policies and in effect colluding with finance capital interests rather than the interests of their populations.

In this chapter, Ann propose goes on to set out tried and tested key economic policy proposals amongst which are these:

  1. Private created finance for productive activity should be encouraged. Money for speculation should be strongly discouraged and priced at very high rates of interest. Germany is given as an example of doing this well.
  2.  Managing the price of money. Too high and investment and employment will suffer. Realistic rates and householders and entrepreneurs will benefit and economic activity will flourish.
  3. Governments of advanced economies should spend and borrow.
  4. Central banks should manage exchange rates.
  5. International cooperation and coordination.

Chapter 8 Yes, We Can Afford What We Can Do

First, the public must develop a much greater understanding of how the bank money system works. Knowledge is powerful and empowering. Today’s flawed economic ideology will be weakened by wider public understanding. For women the issue is central. Women are largely responsible for managing household budgets but they have largely been excluded from managing the nation’s financial system and budget. At present the networks that dominate the financial sector are largely male. Thankfully this is changing.

Secondly, Ann argues that the refrain “there is no money” most frequently applies to women’s interests and causes. Hence there is never enough money to fund the all the social services women provide, nor enough money to reduce the high rates of maternal new born mortality across the world, fair and decent wages to women or provide adequate high quality child care for women at work. Then there are environmentalists. There is a direct link between deregulated uncontrolled credit and increased consumption, rising greenhouse gases and increasing exploitation of the earth’s scarce and precious resources. To protect the ecosystem it is vital to manage and regulate finance.

We need to rebuild and strengthen democratic political parties and institutions and participate in political debate and elections. In other words we, the people, have to organise. There needs to be a partnership between labour and industry.

Because there need never be a shortage of finance, we can afford to undertake this huge transformation and care for an aging population, the young and the vulnerable only within the limits of the limits of the ecosystem.  

Suggested further reading:

·   Strategic quantitative easing: Stimulating investment to rebalance the economy https://neweconomics.org/2013/07/strategic-quantitative-easing/

  • Positive Money https://positivemoney.org/our-proposals/sovereign-money-creation/ There is a need for an alternative strategy for a more sustainable economic recovery. This paper proposes this alternative, a new solution called Sovereign Money Creation (SMC). SMC offers a way to make the recovery sustainable. In a similar way to Quantitative Easing, SMC relies on the state creating money and putting this money into the economy. But whereas QE relied on flooding financial markets and hoping that some of this money would ‘trickle down’ to the real economy, SMC works by injecting new money directly into the real economy, via government spending, tax cuts or rebates.
  • For an overview of the challenges facing us read: The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness. Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016 https://brucenixon.com/books/new-book-the-21st-century-revolution-a-call-to-greatness/

Organisations to support:

Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote. And Lobby your MP.

Women leaders and coronavirus: look beyond stereotypes to find the secret of their success

I am hosting this important article written by Kate Maclean,Professor of International Development, Northumbria University, Newcastle and published by The Conversation

Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan and Angela Merkel of Germany have all been singled out for the way they have handled the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been praised for demonstrating care, empathy and a collaborative approach. These skills – stereotypically described as “feminine” – have enabled them to listen to scientific expertise, work with local authorities and communicate effectively with the public. It has made them come across as transparent and accountable at a time of mass confusion.

In stark contrast, male leaders in some of the worst performing countries – the UK, the US and Brazil – have adopted a leadership style of belligerent rhetoric. They’ve taken guidance from entourages of confidantes, often instead of experts. Their inconsistent, unclear communications have been compared to “gaslighting” . Their tendency to follow this path perhaps isn’t surprising. After all, the “hyper-masculine” style – a maverick leader who establishes authoritative power by aggressively rejecting “feminine” traits like collaboration, empathy and respect for due process – proved a successful electoral strategy for these leaders.

There are many men of course who are not like that – just as there are women who don’t consider themselves particularly empathetic or collaborative. So, while it is wonderful to see women leaders and feminine leadership being praised so widely during the pandemic, emphasising the stereotypical characteristics of the leaders themselves may reinforce the gendered thinking that helps put macho populist leaders in power.

Breaking the mould To understand the success of these women leaders in handling COVID-19, the focus should be on the political culture and institutions which allowed women who adopt a “feminine” approach to leadership to come to power. More representative systems create styles of leadership which inherently involve compromise and collaboration rather than aggression and domination. This can create a political culture in which femininity and power are not in contradiction.

We can see the perpetuation of stereotypes in the way that women leaders have been praised for their management of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, beyond that, we can also see how these women are breaking the mould.

Ardern is only the second premier in the world to give birth while in office . She has placed empathy and care at the centre of her personal style of authority. This, in itself, is a breakthrough, but it is notable that when she exhibits the traits of strength, decisiveness and military command, which have also been prominent in her management of the crisis, these too are seen through a maternal lens. One religious leader accused her of implementing a “nanny state”, being an “overly controlling parent” and even BBC

Newsnight described her as “putting the entire nation on the naughty step”.

Merkel isn’t just successful because of her ‘mutti’ image. EPA

Tsai

Merkel is not a mother herself, but she is known in Germany as “mutti” – the “mummy” of the nation . Her route to power is a study in the discourses which frame the way women in politics are seen. Her mentor Helmut Kohl famously nicknamed her his “Mädchen” – his girl – and she demonstrates her economic credentials by evoking the thrifty schwäbische hausfrau (Swabian housewife). It has come to the fore in this pandemic, however, that she also has a PhD in quantum chemistry.

Tsai, who also has a PhD, has been praised for her swift action to protect citizens’ health during the pandemic. She has also sent humanitarian aid to other countries, including the US.

However, while similar action by Ardern was attributed to her compassion.

Arden

Tsai’s response is more consistent with her strong assertion of Taiwanese independence.

There were fears that if the virus spread, China would be able to take geopolitical advantage .

Checks and balances produce great leaders

These women are good leaders because they are highly skilled, qualified and experienced. Crucially, though, they have come through political systems in which their kind of skills can be valued, which are explicitly designed to keep strong-man populist leaders at bay. New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany all have multiple institutionalised checks and balances on executive power. They have strong local institutions of governance which favour local participation in politics, rather than a top-down approach.

These nations also have electoral and party-political systems which adopt elements of proportional representation. Such systems frequently give rise to coalition governments and hence necessitate collaborative leadership. To counter perception-biases in voter choice, electoral systems in these countries use party lists, where votes are cast for a party and positions are allocated proportionately to listed individuals. This is how Tsai, Merkel and Ardern were all first elected.

Of course, these systems are not perfect, but the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted both the dangers of systems that promote mavericks and the need for strong institutions to check their whims.

The pandemic has also placed in sharp relief the need to invest in care and social infrastructure – “feminine” areas of the economy that have been overlooked for too long. The experience of women leaders who have reinvented both political leadership and femininity and the institutional contexts which have allowed them to get to the top, can help reimagine inclusive political processes in the wake of the crisis.

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. His latest book, The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”.

Footnote

If you find Kate Maclean’s article useful, please consider supporting The Conversation

The Dominic Cummings Story

Dominic Cummings is Boris Johnson’s de facto chief-of-staff

Hollie Adams/Getty Images

 

I strongly recommend Emily Maitlis’s BBC2 Television Programme,

Taking Back Control: The Dominic Cummings Story. To some he is an evil genius, to others a master strategist. This film examines Dominic Cummings’s place in our politics over the last two decades, from Blair to Brexit and beyond. David Gauke and Rory Stuart, who opposed a hard Brexit and were thrown out of the party, take part. 

 

The film confirms my view that Brexit is an abuse of the UK’s democracy and that we have been taken for a ride. It was a great conspiracy. We were told lies such as the £350 million savings a week we’d make by leaving the EU; illegal money and misleading social networking were used in the campaign. Behind it all was Dominic Cummings. He had ready collaborators in the form of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, all of whom are clearly narcissists. Is Cummings’s power legitimate in a democracy? Is it in accord within the spirit of our unwritten constitution? One of my friends said to me, “He should be had up for treason”.

It can be argued that Dominic Cummings has the characteristics of a sociopath. Adolph Hitler was an extreme example, as psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer in his book Adolf Hitler described Hitler as a “neurotic psychopath.” Let us beware.

 

Brexit is the will of the British people is complete nonsense, as I have argued elsewhere. There were many discontents underlying the vote for Brexit, including the failure to enable the rebuilding of the economies of large areas of the UK, especially in our former industrial heartlands of the North.

 

I quote the BBC’s description of the programme: “For critics and supporters alike, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser – the man who is said to have masterminded Brexit – is an enigma. Dominic Cummings is perhaps the most powerful unelected political figure in Britain today, but what does he actually believe? What has shaped his approach to politics and the media? And what can his rise to power tell us about how politics has changed?

 

In this programme, Emily Maitlis examines Dominic Cummings’s place in our changing political landscape, stretching back over two decades.

 

With testimonies from some of his fiercest critics and closest political friends, Emily Maitlis sheds light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come.

The film charts his arrival in Downing Street as a senior adviser with significant and perhaps unprecedented power. Now, at the apex of the largest Conservative majority since 1987, Cummings aims to play a key role in reshaping the nation, our economy and government”.

 

See what the critics say: BBC 2’s new documentary on Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings promised to “shed light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come”. But some critics aren’t impressed: see Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story. “The view from all sides seems to be that Cummings is awful. It’s just that some people think he’s brilliant, and so put up with him being awful.” Naturally, I would select the following comments, amongst others which are critical of the programme: “Dominic Cummings was a brooding puppet master. A new documentary shows nothing has changed.” Lebby Eyres said the documentary “seems to confirm what I’ve thought all along: it’s not really our Prime Minister Boris Johnson who’s in charge, but Dom”.

 

Meanwhile, we are involved in two crises, namely the climate catastrophe and Covid 19. We need to work closely with our fellow European neighbours and it is ironic that we are embarking on doing the opposite.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book, The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics too.

If you find what you have read useful, please spread the word.

 

 

 

The Happy Blog

Yesterday, I accompanied my wife for a routine test at the local hospital. There was a poster display showing that people from 199 nations work together in the NHS. How wonderful! And all those we met were so caring and kind. I rejoice in the diversity of our nation. This makes me happy, as I shall describe further on.

 

One Team Many Nationalities - Copy

 

It is the same in our town – many people from other lands working in our supermarkets, providing restaurants or coffee places. I love this. They enrich our town. I love multi-cultural London too. It is amazing how kind so many Londoners are to a man like me of a certain age. If I am standing on the tube or train, they offer me a seat. Often I decline with a smile and say standing helps keep me fit.

 

Every time I walk down to the town, looking ahead of me with an open face and just a hint of a smile to come, I get smiles and “Hellos”. Smiles are good for us. I say to myself: “one thing at a time”. So when I am walking, I am walking, not looking down into an I-Phone but taking things in, whether people, many of whom, whatever their age, are beautiful, or the architecture or the natural beauty in the town. When I am walking, I also remember what my Alexander teacher told me – “open your lungs and walk tall with your head up looking forward”. I also remember what my physiotherapist said “squeeze your glutes”. That too helps me walk upright, rather than stooping as so many older people do. Stooping reduces your lung capacity.

 

Another thing keeps me happy: the Fitness Centre. I go twice a week. That is good for my wellbeing as well as my physical health. I meet many different and interesting people. Diversity is good. The Manager and I do a lot of laughing, seeing the funny side of life.  Every day I do something for my body: yoga class Monday evening. Royal Canadian Airforce Exercise Programme before lunch if I am not going to the Fitness Centre.

 

Being kind and friendly is good for wellbeing. I usually say to people in shops and cafes, “How are you today?” Or if they are young, “Is this a temporary job? What next?” In this way l get into conversation and learn a lot about people. I think people like talking with someone who shows interest. In effect it is part of being kind. We may discover that we have common interests, and we end up having a fruitful conversation. Sometimes they are interested in my current book and want to buy it. Many of my sales are done in this way or at conferences. It is a book about the biggest challenges faced by humanity and how we need to respond to avoid catastrophe. Because the book is short, concise and reasonably priced people buy it.

 

I spend some three hours at my computer before lunch, mainly researching, writing and sometimes campaigning. Unless I have decided to defer this and write, I’ll look at the flood of incoming e-mails, careful not to be distracted by Facebook, deciding which are important and need a response, and deleting the rest. If I am not careful, I’ll lose track of time. However, particularly if it is sunny, I’ll go into the garden for a nature cure. In the summer, when much of the gardening has been done, I’ll hike into the nearby fields and woods. However, I hate mud so rarely go hiking if it is wet. After lunch, I’ll often go to a café to read or check a draft.

 

I go to many meetings and conferences, mostly in London arranged by think tanks and NGOs. I find this enormously uplifting as it shows how many people are working to create a better world. Such people are far more racially diverse than used to be the case.

 

Our beautiful town is mostly a happy place. We have open spaces and trees, a little river and a canal. At times, the cafes are full of happy mums with babies or small children. The staff create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Many people, like me, work in the good environments of these cafes.

 

There are two markets a week and one farmers’ market a month, mostly organic. Going to the market on Saturdays is sociable occasion when we bump into friends and chat.

 

I realise we live in a highly privileged bubble. Everywhere should enjoy these features. Of course not everyone looks happy, and some are clearly depressed and or unwell. All human beings deserve to live in a good environment as a human right. In many areas they do. But in many areas they do not. Judging from the huge and expensive cars in our town, some people clearly have too much wealth. The UK is one of the most unequal amongst OECD countries. It is the responsibility of good government to put this right.

 

The reality is that living lightly on this planet is urgent. Otherwise we face catastrophe. This is not widely understood. Continuous economic growth is unsustainable. We are already consuming one and a half planets’ worth a year . And of course that is down to the wealthiest countries. We need governments with the courage to take on that challenge with vigour and urgency. Wellbeing is more important than economic growth measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) . Happiness and wellbeing trump material growth. The Gross National Happiness Index is worth looking at. We need to measure the progress of our economy by looking at the quality of and improvement in people’s lives. Also it has to be the wellbeingwellbeing of people in all nations.

 

One recent piece of good news is that a World Health Organisation expert said that there was a steep decline in newly-reported cases of COVID-19 due to actions taken by the Chinese government to contain the deadly coronavirus.

 

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my Blog which includes many other topics too.

 

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The Case for Universal Basic Services

In their bold new book, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is exactly what we need to save our societies and our planet.

UBS Cover - Copy (2)

In their bold new book, Anna Coote and Andrew Percy argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is exactly what we need to save our societies and our planet.

 Trials of a Universal Basic Income are quite widespread. But the authors take things much further. The old argument that free markets and individual choice are the best way to solve pressing problems of poverty, inequality and environmental degradation has led us to catastrophe, and must be abandoned. They show that expanding the principle of collective universal service provision to everyday essentials like transport, childcare and housing is not only the best way of tackling many of the biggest problems facing the contemporary world: it’s also efficient, practical and affordable. Anyone who cares about fighting for a fairer, greener and more democratic world should read this book.

This is a proposal whose time has come. The idea is that healthcare and education should be provided as universal public services to all who need them is widely accepted. But why leave it there? Why not expand it to more of life’s essentials? Anna Coote, Principal Fellow at NEF and Andrew Percy, co-director of the Social Prosperity Network at UCL, argue that this transformational new policy – Universal Basic Services (UBS) – is what we need to save our societies and our planet.

 Recently I watched the BBC Panorama “Universal Credit: One Year On”  . For generations, governments have sought to simplify the benefits system. The latest attempt, Universal Credit, merging six benefits into one was supposed to make life better for claimants. But it is not working. It was heartrending to watch as one enthusiastic young woman on a zero hours contract became discouraged as she was given little work and struggled to make ends meet. Another young woman with a child struggled to pay for the essentials she and her cheerful little daughter needed and to pay off the loans she incurred in order to survive.

This would not happen if the principle of collective universal service provision were applied to everyday essentials of life such as housing and transport, combined with a reformed social security system that gave everyone a decent income. This is the best way to tackle many of the biggest problems facing the contemporary world. It is equitable, efficient and sustainable – and it builds solidarity. For all these reasons and more, UBS offers a progressive, practical and affordable alternative to dependence on cash transfers, loans and market transactions.

 If implemented, Universal Basic Services (UBS) could bring enormous benefits to the whole nation, including those worst affected by Universal Credit argues the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP). Instead of attempting to alleviate poverty through redistributive payments and minimum wages, the state should instead provide everyone with the services they need to feel secure in society. Their radical proposals include building 1.5 million new social homes to provide rent-free accommodation for those in most need.

The Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) says UBI is expensive. Paying all UK citizens the current Jobseeker’s Allowance amount of £73.10 per week would cost almost £250bn per year – 13 per cent of the UK’s entire GDP. By contrast, widening the social safety net through more comprehensive services would cost around £42bn, which can be funded by lowering the personal income tax allowance from £11,800 to £4,300, according to the IGP’s analysis. 

Strengthening and extending universal services would also be a more effective way of tackling global poverty and improving wellbeing than a Universal Basic Income (UBI), according to a report by the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) .

 We look forward to a potentially better future with robotics and AI. Universal basic services could work better than basic income to combat ‘rise of the robots’, say experts. The team at UCL IGP says the state should make shelter, travel and IT services available to all, free at the point of use, rather than focusing on redistributing money. Could one billion humans be pushed into unemployment by robots and AI software? asks Christine Evans-Pughe .

Robotics and AI offer human beings wonderful possibilities. Arduous or boring jobs could be done, often more efficiently, by robots. These days, 3D printing and now 4D seem to be at the core of most new research ventures, whether it’s developing ways to print entire meals or recreating facial features to repair a patient’s face. Skylar Tibbits wants to up the ante; he’s hoping 4D printing will be the thing of the not-so-far future. Objects could be printed, but thanks to geometric code, could also later change shape and transform on their own.

The key point here is that humans could be released from arduous, unsafe or boring jobs and enabled to do what they do best and gives them most joy, such as engaging in work that requires creativity or the heart, without suffering a precarious or low standard of living.

The Labour Party adopted Universal Basic Services as one of three pillars in their economic platform in 2019.

There is no doubt now that keeping planetary warming within limits necessary for continued human habitation will require transformational change of an unprecedented scale and pace. Such radical change can only be delivered through collective action and UBS may have a key role to play in delivering the rapid and mass behavioural change needed. The Right to a Good Life, Labour 2019.

Irrespective of the merits of Universal Basic Services, chapter 5 is invaluable in describing best practice, in Europe and elsewhere, in housing, transport and information technology in fostering wellbeing and in recognising the importance of the internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Conclusion.

Canada and other countries are trialling UBI . The Greens in the UK are considering UBI.  Nordic countries are also doing so and now Ireland is considering UBI. It is to be hoped that these countries will follow the lead of the British Labour Party.

REVIEWS

“If the UK is so rich, why do so many of us feel so poor?  Coote and Percy argue that by rethinking what, how and why we provide collectively, we can ensure that the economy and society works for everybody.”
Jonathan Portes, Kings College London

 “In arguing for universal basic services Anna Coote and Andrew Percy call on us to think differently about both the scope and character of public services in rich countries. They do not want free services for everyone, all of the time, but they explain why the state must take responsibility for seeing that our essential needs are met without cost ever being a barrier. These proposals are ambitious but not utopian and sit squarely within the practical traditions of post-1945 democratic socialism and human rights.”
Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society 

“What if there were a way to reduce inequality, promote social solidarity, improve levels of education and health, and create a better functioning democracy, all in the context of sustainability? Universal Basic Services. How does it compare with Universal Basic Income? Read the book. It is beautifully simple in its writing and elegant in argument.”
Michael Marmot, Director, UCL Institute of Health Equity 

 “Universal basic services speak to the necessity for everybody in a thriving society to have shared experiences and a common understanding of the resources needed for people to participate fully. We do not have that, after years of individualist policies and austerity; as a result our society is fracturing. This book speaks to the urgent need for everybody to have access to collective services that are sufficient to meet their needs.”
Diane Coyle, co-director, Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge University

I am an author, writer and speaker. I give participative talks in communities, universities, schools and at conferences. My latest book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness was Oxford Alumni Book of the Month for November 2016. Professor Katherine J. Willis, CBE, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity, Department Zoology, University of Oxford said “I am greatly enjoying it; you write beautifully”. I update the book through my BlogImages for Blog which includes many other topics.

If you like what you have read and find it useful, please spread the word.