Standing up for local people

by Simon Johnson, Chair, Tamworth Green Party

The Herald’s forthright defence of the people of our town, against the ‘slob’ labels pinned on us by the national press, is to be welcomed. However, we must not be so defensive that we become complacent and fail to recognise the problems that do exist.

Tamworth Borough Council does need to do more to encourage healthy lifestyles and healthy eating with increased long-term investment, alongside other partners, in sporting and active recreation facilities – accessible to all, at rates we can all afford, building on some of our excellent local voluntary groups such as Tamworth Boxing Club. The planning system should also be used creatively to block junk-food establishments opening up in the town, in favour of healthier choices.

However, evidence shows that the key problem affecting diet and health is poverty. Unemployment, under-employment and the increased growth of low-paid, temporary and casual employment (responsible for much of the government’s mythical increase in employment) and a resultant lack of aspiration are all linked to poor health outcomes. These are things which do not just affect Tamworth but many other similar towns across the country. Sadly, but predictably, the policies of the current government – squeezing the poor to pay for the excesses of the rich – only make matters worse.

However, there are things the council should do to help hard-pressed people in Tamworth. Our council could follow the lead of Green Party controlled Brighton and Hove council, which recently passed a motion against pursuing evictions against tenants in arrears because of welfare change such as the government’s controversial and iniquitous ‘bedroom tax’ . Alternatively the council should follow the example of some Housing Associations in reclassifying bedrooms as other types of room. This protects tenants who are not in a position to pay more, and in doing so, also supports the local economy as people on low incomes spend a higher proportion of their incomes on local goods and services.

We need a council that acts creatively in the interests of local people, rather than blindly implementing disastrous government policy.

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Living wages or decent benefits – the hallmark of a civilised society

You may remember last year’s report in the Herald of the excellent and vital work of the Tamworth Food Bank in offering relief to some of the most needy and vulnerable people in our society.

http://www.thisistamworth.co.uk/year-Tamworth-s-Foodbank-fed-1-000-hungry-people/story-17041457-detail/story.html

The letter below, from Green Party leader Natalie Bennett on the subject appeared recently in the Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/feb/01/act-end-child-poverty-now

“The Conservatives are intent upon making Britain work for the privileged few at the cost of the rest of us.

The number of food banks has risen six-fold since 2010. Fast-rising rents, falling real wages and rising food prices have created the perfect storm for poverty.

The devastating benefit cuts, affecting those in work, seeking work and unfit for work, are pulling the rug further out from the needy.

Until there is a living wage for all, decent benefits to meet the real costs of living, an end to zero-hours contracts and casualised employment, sadly the need – the desperate, unavoidable need – for food banks is only going to increase.”

Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green Party of England and Wales

Green – in 2013

New Year message from Green Party leader Natalie Bennett

31 December 2012

The Roman God of the new year, Janus, had two faces looking opposite ways – he had to look back to the past and on in to the future.  Any new year’s message surely has to do the same – so in looking forward to hopes and fears for 2013, we really have to start with 2012.

What will history remember? The Olympics, perhaps; the Greek debt crisis, maybe, although 2012 may not be the label that sits against it; the death of Lonesome George, the world’s last Pinta Island tortoise.

But what history may record for 2012 is that it was the year in which the economic  ideas that have been regarded as gospel, scarcely challengeable in mainstream discussion and embedded at the heart of government, academia and business for decades, were declared failed, their capital zero. It was certainly the year in which the voices against this clearly failed model, from Occupy and UKUncut to the Transition Town movement, became even stronger and more certain.

As the British economy bumped along on a wobbly foundation of low-pay, insecure work; as the instability of the banks continued to pose a huge, unbridled threat; as the public came to recognise that multinational companies were scooping up the meagre spoils of the economy and shipping them off into tax havens; as G4S clearly demonstrated the failure of the outsourcing model – built on the basis that the state carries the risks and the contractors could fail with impunity; it became clear that we need a radical change in direction.

On the global scale, as the Arctic sea ice shrank to astonishing lows, as the bounty of nature continued to shrink visibly before our eyes and food prices soared in response, as industrial farming methods continued to deplete our soils and pollute our oceans, it became even clearer that rapid change had to be made to our ways of life.

Instead of believing that we could run Britain on the basis of casino finance and outsourced services, shipping or flying in everyday essentials, leaving millions uncertain where next week’s rent or next month’s mortgage payment was coming from, it became clear that we must rebuild a proper, balanced low-carbon economy.

It’s become clear that we need to bring food production back to Britain – to restore the ring of market gardens that until recent surrounded our towns and cities, encourage allotments and city vegetable patches and fruit trees, to ensure that our green belt is protected, not buried under car-dependent sprawling suburbs. This was the year in which local food growing clearly became an essential to help feed the poorest in Britain.

It’s become clear that we need resource-efficient local manufacturing, making the essentials of food, clothing, shelter that we need close to where they’re needed. Small positive steps are being made. Over the year I saw small enterprises starting to build this new model of business, from Who Made Your Pants in Southampton, to Furniture Divas in Oxford. But the barriers are many, and need to be slashed down.

And it’s clear that we need to reshape our energy use and energy production. First, we clearly need  to get truly serious about energy conservation (including providing warm comfortable homes for everyone, built to the standards much of the rest of Europe takes for granted). Second, we need to move towards a decentralised, community-owned, flexible and resilient energy production system – on- and off-shore wind, solar, small hydro, anaerobic digestion, waste biofuel, tidal. Third, we need to provide a decent, affordable public transport system – and look at ways we can reshape our economy to eliminate long, miserable, pointless commutes.

All of these changes need to be built on a very different business model – not giant multinational companies emptying out our high streets, importing low-quality, non-durable goods made in dreadful sweatshops, wasting vast amounts of our limited resources. Instead we need strong localised economies, built around small businesses and cooperatives, with decently paid staff offered jobs on which they can build a life.

If I had a magic wand, I would wave it and say, let’s deliver that by the end of 2013. Of course I don’t, and the changes will take more than a year, more than a decade. But my wish for 2013 is that we can identify it as the year in which Britain made serious strides towards a new economic model, a new direction.

Let’s start with a crackdown on multinational companies – make them abandon the use of tax havens and pay fair taxes (as their small business competitors must) and ensure that they pay all of their staff a living wage and offer stable conditions – ending zero-hours contracts and anti-social, exploitative shift patterns. And go on with a serious legislative effort to end the risks of the banks again costing us hundreds of billions – separate the high street banks from their gambling “investment” cousins, install a financial transactions tax, work to promote local banks and credit unions, and insure an effective green investment bank can provide the funds we need for essential work.

Let’s move on to an Energy Bill that puts conservation at the heart of energy policy, that encourages small-scale renewables under community ownership. Add in the renationalisation of the railways as a start towards a sensible, integrated transport strategy, while abandoning the costly, inefficient HS2 plan.

Then let’s act on the NHS – protect our cost-effective, efficient, fair system – keep it publicly owned and publicly run where it is now, and bring back in house as soon as possible the outsourcing to inappropriate profit-driven multinationals. After that, start spreading out to public services. Having made the minimum wage a living wage, and ensure decent conditions for workers, any “efficiency, cost-effective” claims for outsourcing across the public sector will disappear.  As contracts expire, workers can be brought back in house – democratic accountability restored and money put into essential services now cut back.

Then we can deal with poverty – starting with pensioners. People who’ve contributed all of their lives shouldn’t be living in poverty. Let’s bring in a basic £170/week pension that would immediately lift all pensioners out of poverty. And a minimum wage being a living wage would help many workers, while the abolition of the dreadful Atos “fitness to work” scheme – GPs understand the health of their patients and their needs best would take great stress off the ill and the disabled.

Then housing – there’s 300,000 empty private sector homes to be brought back into use, and 37,000 council homes; we’d need a decent regional development policy to help with that. Much simpler – let’s give the growing army of private tenants greater security of tenure, enforce decent housing standards on their landlords, and encourage a new generation of housing co-ops in which people can work through their own housing needs.

Then some quick and sensible measures – abolish Trident nuclear weapons, immediately bring home British troops from Afghanistan – make us leaders in peace, and save some significant cash along the way.

There’s much more I’d like to add in – the abolition of university tuition fees, the restoration of an EMA-type system,  but that’s enough to be going along with for one year.

Of course, there’s no sign of this Coalition government heading in any of these directions, of understanding that the convictions to which they continue to cling are now mere intellectual driftwood, heading fast towards a smashing reef.

But Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions, and we can turn to that image as January begins and hope for change, plan for change, campaign for change. That’s what increasing numbers of British people have been doing over 2012, and more will join them in 2013. I look forward to working with the many, the 99%, who are increasingly prepared to take on the 1% and their representatives.

An Alternative Autumn Statement 2012: Greens reject coalition’s self-defeating economic programme

The Green Party is calling for positive economic policies instead of the Coalition’s dogmatic, self-perpetuating and failed “cut at all costs” approach.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “We reject this government’s self-defeating and contradictory approach of trying to cut its way to growth while providing tax giveaways to large corporations, including environmentally and socially destructive fossil fuel companies.

And we reject its inhuman and inhumane pressure on the poorest in society – households with members in work and those without – with non-pensioner benefits restricted to real-term decreases (below inflation, 1% increases) for the next three years. That’s £3.7bn being squeezed from people whose lives are often already insecure and desperate.

One certainty George Osborne has ensured is that the foodbank “industry” is going to become a permanent feature in Coalition Britain, the world’s seventh-wealthiest economy.”

“Britain needs to invest in environmentally-positive, jobs-creating policies, rather than using the UK’s historically unremarkable debt to GDP ratio to justify slashing state expenditure and further tax cuts for the wealthiest”, Ms Bennett said.

“A Green government would immediately invest the £4bn windfall from the 4G phone spectrum auction and the £35 billion quantitative easing surplus to create jobs in low-carbon infrastructure and in sectors such as renewable energy, energy-efficiency, low-carbon finance and manufacturing and in our contracting construction sector. The Green New Deal group has called for green quantitative easing to fund solar PV, insulation and other efficiency schemes that could create 140,000 jobs.

“Despite Osborne’s best efforts to hold them back, green industries are already providing essential goods and services that we need – from insulation to clean power from wind turbines – having contributed over 9% of UK GDP in 2011 – yet they retain enormous job creation potential.”

The Green Party would  ‘reboot’ the tax system to ensure that wealthy individuals and multinational companies pay their fair share, levelling the playing field for small businesses that are currently paying their taxes and struggling to compete against the tax-avoiding business giants.

Ms Bennett said: “Our reformed tax system would replace council tax and business rates with a land value tax, a wealth tax to recover some of the gains from those who benefited from the boom years and have surfed unscathed through the bust. Furthermore, we would end tax relief on private pensions, putting the savings into a Citizens’ Pension that would immediately lift all pensioners out of poverty.

There’d be a financial transaction tax to discourage casino-style financial trading, moves to force transparency in the books of multinational corporations and a genuine, effective crackdown on tax avoidance.

And it is difficult to have faith in the Chancellor’s announcement of new infrastructure projects, as his government announced a similar scheme in 2010, which has actually delivered a decrease in spending on construction. The government has also delivered just £750m of a £5bn expenditure it promised for public works at last year’s Autumn Statement.”

Ms Bennett added: “In recreating the failed PFI schemes of the last Labour government, this government is repeating its predecessor’s mistakes and announcing headline projects that are unlikely to be delivered. According to the Office for National Statistics, we already have future PFI liabilities of £144bn. Renegotiations that have saved £2.5bn are small beer in comparison.”

“A Green government would provide genuine government investment in the new schools and transport infrastructure that we need. What we don’t need is spending on new roads, an action shown to simply move congestion from one place to another.”