Tag Archive: anticapitalism


Even fellow Tories distance themselves from this “crazy fascist”

Yesterday, The VOAG re-published a story about John Butcher, a Conservative Surrey County Councillor for Cobham ward. He has worked out a brilliant scheme for pushing up property values in the county – by driving out everyone who is fat, takes recreational drugs, gorges on junk food or has ‘self-inflicted’ health problems of any kind. As a member of the council’s health committee, he has sent an email to staff suggesting a two-speed NHS in which “patients with self-inflicted morbidity, (mainly smoking, alcohol, narcotics or obesity) or an injury through ‘dangerous activities’ are placed in a much slower-moving queue”. https://suacs.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/john-butcher-surrey-heath-tory-councillor-health-committee-nhs
In a response to the Elmbridge Guardian, which first broke the story, John Butcher added: “If sports can ban performance-enhancing drug use, then entertainment etc. should ban narcotics and alcohol abuse”.

“Everyone in, or aspiring to, a position of public responsibility and everyone in a position to influence the public, including entertainers etc, should be asked to sign a voluntary pledge not to take illegal narcotics or consume excessive alcohol, or drive when so affected”.

“Anyone who fails to sign that pledge, or who signs it and breaches it, should be excluded from positions of public responsibility and influence. All public organisations, including regulated broadcasters etc, should agree to impose this exclusion”.

Fellow Councillor, Karen Randolph was also quoted in the paper. She  said: “The views expressed by Councillor Butcher challenge the very credibility of Surrey County Council’s Health Overview Scrutiny Committee, of which he is a member. It is highly disturbing that the Conservative administration at SCC has deemed it appropriate to appoint to this committee a councillor who clearly does not support the NHS and who holds such extraordinary views about the responsibilities of the state to its citizens.”

Cllr John Butcher also sits on Elbridge Borough Council, where he lists his chief concerns as “Challenging wishy-washiness” and “nebulous do-goodery”.

Simon Cook, a Conservative councillor in Cullingworth, Yorkshire called John Butcher “a real deal health fascist” and blogged yesterday: “So if you smoke, drink, drive fast cars round a track or climb rocks (not sure whether Cllr Butcher’s ‘dangerous activities’ includes horse riding and playing rugby) you’ll be made to wait longer in the hope that you’ll move away from Surrey. Indeed, it seems that Cllr Butcher thinks that, by doing this, all these people with “self-inflicted” illnesses will move to places where the authorities believe in equal treatment”.

The real question is: How would John butcher’s proposals push up house prices in Surrey, and to whose benefit would it be? John Butcher’s argument is that people with illnesses will be repulsed from Surrey, whilst “healthy people will be attracted to the better healthcare that Surrey could afford, having been freed from the burden of treating sick people”.

What the councillor is really saying is drive out the poor and less affluent from Surrey (the sick, disabled, smokers obese et al, who are by-and large the less well off) to make lebensraum for his wealthy friends. Bring on the concentration camps.

But let’s give the councillor a chance. Let’s take his comments on face value. There are 1.08 million residents in Surrey. According to Surrey County Council, one in four adults in Surrey are smokers. Surrey NHS estimates there are 455,000 “hazardous”, “harmful” or “binge drinkers” in Surrey. http://www.surreydaat.org.uk/pdf/Alcohol%20Needs%20Assessment.pdf

The Obesity rate in Surrey, lower than the national average, is estimated by Surrey PCT to be at 20% of the population. http://www.guildford.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=569&p=0 As for drugs use, there are no statistics for Surrey, but in the South East, according to the ONS, 8.6% of the adult population took illegal drugs last year, with 3.3% of the population described as frequent drug users. http://data.gov.uk

The councillor extended his attack on the unfit and unwell to people engaged in “risky past-times and sports”. It’s plainly obvious that this is just a smoke screen to hide his real agenda, which is to chase the less affluent, who have a propensity to be less fit, out of Surrey. I can’t believe the Councillor is thinking of his horse riding, rugby playing chums when he talks of “dangerous sports”. However, taking Cllr Butcher at his word again, we have to take account of horse riding, rugby, perhaps even motor cycling, and a host of other recreational pass-times that might be considered potentially hazardous.      

For example, according to Surrey County Council’s 2007 Rights Of Way report, there are 20,000 horses in Surrey. A 1998 Gallop poll found 6% of Surrey residents had gone horse riding in that year. http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/176058/ROWIP-main-text.pdf

Where’s all this going, what’s the point of all these statistics? Well, by my reckoning, if the Councillor had his way, they’d be no-one left in Surrey. His policy certainly wouldn’t produce the rise in property prices that he and his chums so desire.     

As an aside to these arguments; according to the ONS, Excise duty & VAT raised by the UK Drinks industry amounts to £22bn annually, whilst alcohol consumption costs the nation, through the health service, crime, lost production etc £20bn.

Estimates of the costs to the NHS from smoking varies greatly, one study estimated an annual cost of £610m. Another study (Allender, S- The burden of smoking-related ill health in the UK) estimates the cost to be £2.7bn – whilst the Centre for Health Economics estimates the cost to be between £1.4bn and £1.7bn.  According to the HMRC (Revenue & Customs) Tobacco tax revenue last year amounted to £12.1bn.

Another argument, developed by the University of Public Health, Rotterdam indicates that smoking may even save the NHS money. Their study shows that since smokers on average die younger, they do not incur the costs of a lengthy old age or the costly diseases that are associated with it. Their study concluded that the average health cost of a non-smoker was $83,400 whilst the average health cost of a smoker was $72,600.

These fiscal arguments, which clearly show the tax payer incurs no cost from smoking and alcohol consumption, can be equally applied to the sporting activities Cllr Butcher appears so against. In each and every case revenue exceeds the costs.

It’s not the first time John Butcher has hit the local headlines. A council employee lodged an official complaint against him in February 2010.

Council proceedings start with a prayer, during which no one is allowed to enter or leave the council chambers. Cllr Butcher arrived late to the 2010 February council meeting- and finding that prayers had already begun, and the door to the chambers closed and guarded by an attendant- he lost his temper. He aggressively forced his way in to the chambers, thrusting the door in to the face of the attendant, injuring him and bruising his face.

An eye-witness told the Surrey Advertiser: “During prayers I became aware of someone attempting to gain entry to the council chamber, through the door being ‘guarded’ [by the officer], using his body to keep the door shut. It quickly became apparent that this someone had not been deterred by the efforts and they again tried to enter the chamber in a more forceful manner. I then recall [the officer] turning his head towards the door as if to indicate through the frosted glass to the person on the other side that prayers were still ongoing. A very short time afterwards I recall hearing something of a thud as the door hit [the officer] on the side of the head and I witnessed John Butcher stumbling/forcing his way into the chamber through the partially opened door.”

After the incident John Butcher refused to apologise to the attendant and denied injuring him, even though there was a council chamber full of witnesses.

Not only are John Butcher’s views abhorrent, but as I hope I’ve shown, they don’t even make sense or stand up to any kind of reasoning. Rather than exile the less-well-off, the sick and the disabled from Surrey, it’s time to kick John Butcher out of Surrey. Do not re-elect John Butcher to Surrey County Council or Elmbridge Borough Council.
John Butcher
18 Bramble Rise
Cobham Surrey
KT11 2HP
Tel: 07899 891685
jbutcher@elmbridge.gov.uk

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The VOAG is watching - The VOAG is everywhereOn why we must vote by simple majority and why this protects the rights of the minority. And why the Occupy movement are wrong.  

 GERALD DOWNING , Nov 28 2011  
On consensus: excerpts from Murray Bookchin’s “What is Communalism? The Democratic Dimensions of Anarchism” by Ozaki Takami

‘Libertarians commonly consider democracy, even in this sense, as a form of “rule” — since in making decisions, a majority view prevails and thus “rules” over a minority. As such, democracy is said to be inconsistent with a truly libertarian ideal. Even so knowledgeable a historian of anarchism as Peter Marshall observes that, for anarchists, “the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority”. Scores of libertarians have echoed this idea time and again.
 
What is striking about assertions like Marshall’s is their highly pejorative language. Majorities, it would seem, neither “decide” nor “debate”: rather, they “rule,” “dictate,” “command,” “coerce” and the like. In a free society that not only permitted, but fostered the fullest degree of dissent, whose podiums at assemblies and whose media were open to the fullest expression of all views, whose institutions were truly forums for discussion — one may reasonably ask whether such a society would actually “dictate” to anyone when it had to arrive at a decision that concerned the public welfare.
 
How, then, would society make dynamic collective decisions about public affairs, aside from mere individual contracts? The only collective alternative to majority voting as a means of decision-making that is commonly presented is the practice of consensus. Indeed, consensus has even been mystified by avowed “anarcho-primitivists,” who consider Ice Age and contemporary “primitive” or “primal” peoples to constitute the apogee of human social and psychic attainment.
 
I do not deny that consensus may be an appropriate form of decision-making in small groups of people who are thoroughly familiar with one another. But to examine consensus in practical terms, my own experience has shown me that when larger groups try to make decisions by consensus, it usually obliges them to arrive at the lowest common intellectual denominator in their decision-making: the least controversial or even the most mediocre decision that a sizable assembly of people can attain is adopted — precisely because everyone must agree with it or else withdraw from voting on that issue. More disturbingly, I have found that it permits an insidious authoritarianism and gross manipulations — even when used in the name of autonomy or freedom.

To take a very striking case in point: the largest consensus-based movement (involving thousands of participants) in recent memory in the United States was the Clamshell Alliance, which was formed to oppose the Seabrook nuclear reactor in the mid-1970s in New Hampshire. In her recent study of the movement, Barbara Epstein has called the Clamshell the “first effort in American history to base a mass movement on nonviolent direct action” other than the 1960s civil rights movement. As a result of its apparent organizational success, many other regional alliances against nuclear reactors were formed throughout the United States.
 
I can personally attest to the fact that within the Clamshell Alliance, consensus was fostered by often cynical Quakers and by members of a dubiously “anarchic” commune that was located in Montague, Massachusetts. This small, tightly knit faction, unified by its own hidden agendas, was able to manipulate many Clamshell members into subordinating their goodwill and idealistic commitments to those opportunistic agendas. The de facto leaders of the Clamshell overrode the rights and ideals of the innumerable individuals who entered it and undermined their morale and will.
 
In order for that clique to create full consensus on a decision, minority dissenters were often subtly urged or psychologically coerced to decline to vote on a troubling issue, inasmuch as their dissent would essentially amount to a one-person veto. This practice, called “standing aside” in American consensus processes, all too often involved intimidation of the dissenters, to the point that they completely withdrew from the decision-making process, rather than make an honorable and continuing expression of their dissent by voting, even as a minority, in accordance with their views. Having withdrawn, they ceased to be political beings — so that a “decision” could be made. More than one “decision” in the Clamshell Alliance was made by pressuring dissenters into silence and, through a chain of such intimidations, “consensus” was ultimately achieved only after dissenting members nullified themselves as participants in the process.
 
On a more theoretical level, consensus silenced that most vital aspect of all dialogue, dissensus. The ongoing dissent, the passionate dialogue that still persists even after a minority accedes temporarily to a majority decision, was replaced in the Clamshell by dull monologues — and the uncontroverted and deadening tone of consensus. In majority decision-making, the defeated minority can resolve to overturn a decision on which they have been defeated — they are free to openly and persistently articulate reasoned and potentially persuasive disagreements. Consensus, for its part, honors no minorities, but mutes them in favor of the metaphysical “one” of the “consensus” group.
 
The creative role of dissent, valuable as an ongoing democratic phenomenon, tends to fade away in the gray uniformity required by consensus. Any libertarian body of ideas that seeks to dissolve hierarchy, classes, domination and exploitation by allowing even Marshall’s “minority of one” to block decision-making by the majority of a community, indeed, of regional and nationwide confederations, would essentially mutate into a Rousseauean “general will” with a nightmare world of intellectual and psychic conformity. In more gripping times, it could easily “force people to be free,” as Rousseau put it — and as the Jacobins practiced it in1793-94. 
 
The de facto leaders of the Clamshell were able to get away with their behavior precisely because the Clamshell was not sufficiently organized and democratically structured, such that it could countervail the manipulation of a well organized few. The de facto leaders were subject to few structures of  accountability for their actions. The ease with which they cannily used consensus decision-making for their own ends has been only partly told,6 but consensus practices finally shipwrecked this large and exciting organization with its Rousseauean “republic of virtue.”

It was also ruined, I may add, by an organizational laxity that permitted mere passersby to participate in decision-making, thereby destructuring the organization to the point of invertebracy. It was for good reason that I and many young anarchists from Vermont who had actively participated in the Alliance for some few years came to view consensus as anathema.
 
If consensus could be achieved without compulsion of dissenters, a process that is feasible in small groups, who could possibly oppose it as a decision-making process? But to reduce a libertarian ideal to the unconditional right of a minority — let alone a “minority of one” — to abort a decision by a “collection of individuals” is to stifle the dialectic of ideas that thrives on opposition, confrontation and, yes, decisions with which everyone need not agree andshould not agree, lest society become an ideological cemetery. Which is not to deny dissenters every opportunity to reverse majority decisions by unimpaired discussion and advocacy.’
Gerry Downing is the editor of Socialist Fight magazine.The VOAG

Anne, the abused circus elephant says: “Ban Animals In Circuses NOW!” 

Travelling circuses will be banned from using wild animals in their shows, the Government has announced.

Ministers unveiled plans to outlaw the “outdated” practice through new legislation at the “earliest opportunity”. But a tough licensing regime will be brought in to improve conditions for performing animals while changes in the law are developed.

Animal welfare minister Lord Taylor said: “There is no place in today’s society for wild animals being used for our entertainment in travelling circuses. We are developing proposals to introduce a bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. In the meantime we are introducing a Circus Licensing Scheme to ensure decent conditions for wild animals in travelling circuses.”

It comes after a push for action following revelations of the mistreatment of a circus elephant, Anne, last year. MPs backed a blanket ban last June and though it was non-binding it was highly embarrassing for the Government, sparking Downing Street to later signal it would bow to pressure over the demands. But it warned that Government could be left open to lawsuits from circus owners and workers. That is a hurdle that is still likely to make progress of the ban slow.

Tory MP Mark Pritchard, who led last year’s backbench call for a ban, said: “Any licensing scheme should also guarantee that no new new wild animals are imported into UK circuses. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the Government when they say they will move towards a ban. I don’t trust No 10 on the issue. I will believe it when I see it, but I am not holding my breath.”

A consultation on the new welfare licences has been launched and the regulations are expected to come into force by the summer. Anyone responsible for a travelling circus that uses wild animals in a performance will need to hold a valid licence, meet strict welfare standards and have a retirement plan for each animal.

They will also need to provide proper accommodation, full veterinary care, a good diet and high welfare standards during training and performances. A dedicated Government-appointed inspector, paid for by the circuses, will ensure rules are met, officials said.

Jan Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International, who exposed the abuse of Anne the elephant last year, accused the Government of “stalling”.

She said: “It seems to us that the Government will just keep changing the question until they get the answer they want. It is appalling that public and parliamentary wishes are cast aside in such a cavalier manner.”

More than £1bn of NHS services are to be opened to competition from private companies and charities.

The government will open up more than £1bn of NHS services to competition from private companies and charities, reported the Guardian on 17th July. It will lead to the “privatisation of the entire health service” it said.

In the first wave, beginning in April, eight NHS areas – including services for back pain, adult hearing services and wheelchair services for children – will be open for competition. If successful, “any qualified provider” will be allowed, from 2013, to deliver more complicated clinical services in maternity and chemotherapy.

Even Labour’s shadow health secretary, John Healey said it was “not about giving more control to patients, but setting up a full-scale market”.The Tory-led government is pushing ahead with its wasteful and unnecessary NHS reorganisation, rather than focusing on improving patient care. Their policies were just a step towards privatisation. The government insists the NHS must save £20bn over the next four years”.

Writing in Labour Briefing, John Healey said: “In its original form the NHS bill was more than three times longer than the 1946 Act that set up the NHS and it has already been subjected to hundreds of amendments”. “Furthermore, the revised Health And Social Care bill is to be put before Parliament the day after the Summer recess, leaving MPs no chance to read the details of the bill before they vote on it”.   

A Unison spokesman added: “Patients will be little more than consumers, as the NHS becomes a market-driven service, with profits first and patients second, and they will be left without the services they need as forward planning in the NHS becomes impossible.”

A spokesman for the British Medical Association questioned the assumption that increasing competition will mean improving choice, and said: “The Government is misleading the public by repeatedly stating that there will be no privatisation of the NHS”.

 From April 2012 eight types of health services will be opened to competition:
• Services for back and neck pain.
• Adult hearing services in the community.
• Continence services (adults and children).
• Diagnostic tests closer to home.
• Wheelchair services (children).
• Podiatry (feet) services.
• Leg ulcer and wound healing.
• Talking Therapies (primary care psychological therapies, adults).

Max Pemberton commented in The Telegraph on July 26th: “There are 15 clauses that will allow private companies to buy and asset-strip NHS facilities. This means that in these areas the NHS will no longer exist. Sure, the logo will still be there, but the NHS will no longer be national, any more than British Telecom is”. “The health secretary and the Prime Minister assure us the NHS will not be privatised when the legislation they are pushing through explicitly suggests otherwise”.

 

Labour Briefing – The Privatisation of NHS
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/labour-briefing-the-privatisation-of-nhs.pdf

 

 

British Medical Journal: The Privatisation of NHS
https://suacs.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/bmj-the-privatisation-of-nhs.pdf

Even the New York Times’ support for the TNC “Libyan Rebels” is wavering it seems.
Below is a report by C.J. Chivers of the NYT. published July 10th.

Looting and Arson in Qawalish The village of Qawalish sits on the rolling high ground of the mountains of western Libya, a small collection of houses, shops and a mosque astride a single two-lane asphalt road. By the time the fighters opposed to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had chased away pro-Qaddafi forces last week, the battle for this tiny place, all but unknown by outsiders until that day, had provided several scenes that offered insights into how the rebel campaign is being conducted here.

Like those elsewhere in Libya, the fighters here share a sense of common purpose: the belief that their uprising represents a long-awaited chance to topple an ossified, brutal and corrupt regime. But also like that of rebels in the east, their performance on the battlefield is uneven, often unnerving, and at times at odds with the interests of their cause. All of this emerged in the kaleidoscopically mixed picture they presented as they pressed forward last week.

In Qawalish, rebel bungling and crime played out beside pockets of militarily impressive behavior. And then matters turned worse. Ultimately, the contradictory scenes along a single stretch of road underscored a shortage of strong commanders at the front, or at least of commanders who adhered to the pledges of the National Transitional Council, the de facto rebel authority, to respect human rights and the laws of war. And this raised worrisome questions.

Minutes after Qawalish fell last Wednesday, none of the village’s residents remained. They had bolted. There were signs, however, that until the rebels had arrived, at least some villagers had been present. The bazaar was still stocked with fresh vegetables, as if it had been working while the pro-Qaddafi forces held the town. The bakery had loaves of fresh bread. And little in the town appeared to have been disturbed as the town changed hands. Then the storm hit. The rebels began helping themselves to the fuel in Qawalish’s only gas station. Then an armed rebel wheeled about the road on a children’s bicycle he had apparently just taken from a home. A short while later rebels were shooting padlocks off the metal doors to shops, and beginning to sweep through them.

At the time, rebels said they were carefully searching and securing the town. But their behavior soon raised questions, including: Was something besides military necessity taking hold? The next day the questions became more pressing. Houses that had not been burning the previous day were afire, and shops were being aggressively looted by armed men in rebel attire. Every few minutes, a truck would pass by on the road, headed back toward Zintan loaded with what seemed to be stolen goods. Animal feed appeared to be a favorite item to carry off. Several trucks an hour carried away bales of hay and sacks of grain.

The rebels at the checkpoints at the town’s edge did nothing to stop any of this. The town, in short, was being looted by the rebels, and vandalized, and worse. The destruction was not total — five of the town’s scores of houses were on fire. But what would their owners think? And what kind of message was being sent to the people of this town? One eerie aspect of life now in western Libya is the number of villages near the front where no civilians are present, even weeks after falling to rebel hands. This is not exactly a novel sight for a continuing, fluid war. In some cases, the emptiness would seem to be related to infrastructure and scarce supply. Shortages of food and water, a lack of electricity — these are conditions that discourage the return of families who fled.

In other cases, the risks of incoming high-explosive rockets from the Qaddafi forces can keep much of a population away. But support for the rebels is not full-throated and uniform in several mountain towns — the village of El Harabah still flies the green flag of the Qaddafi government, for example. And there is a fair question here, after watching the rebels damage Qawalish and steal its residents’ possessions, about whether suspicions about villagers’ affiliations and tribes have given life to rebel crimes, which in turn have caused civilians to flee. Researchers from Human Rights Watch have been roaming the abandoned villages of the mountains, trying to answer these very questions; their findings could be released as soon as this week.

There are tantalizing clues that factional rivalries are in play — the sort of social kindling that could make the ground war uglier as it nears Tripoli, Libya’s capital, where more people who have enjoyed government patronage have their businesses and homes. One of the buildings being looted in Qawalish late last week bore a scratched-on label in Arabic. “Mashaashia,” it read. This was a tag indicating the presence of a tribe that has enjoyed the support of the Qaddafi government, and that rebels say is in turn the source of many pro-Qaddafi soldiers.

Had the rebels helped themselves to shopkeepers’ goods because they believed they were wrongly aligned? As one house burned inside near the road and rebels openly stole from the town’s few stores, the question by late last week was whether what was happening was the opportunistic looting of an inexperienced quasi-military force, which was suffering the same shortages as everyone else, or something punitive and potentially much worse. Either behavior would be a crime under any notion of modern law, though the first might not set into motion long-term grievances while the second might be taken as an indicator that as this war smolders on, the possibility of unleashing bitterness between tribes and Qaddafi-era political factions grows each day.

By Sunday evening, the rebel license to loot had run almost its full course, and any such distinctions were fast slipping away. All of the shops in the town had been ransacked, several more homes were burned, and the town’s gas station, in fine condition when Qawalish fell, had been vandalized to the point of being dismantled. In building after building, furniture was flipped over, dishes and mirrors shattered, and everything torn apart.

Except for a few rebels roaming the streets in cars and trucks, the town was deserted — a shattered, emptied ghost town decorated with broken glass. Fully sorting out the motivations behind what happened in Qawalish would take more time. Multiple victims and participants in the looting and the arson would have to be found and interviewed separately to gain a credible sense of whether Qawalish’s residents had been targets because of their tribal or other affiliations, or, almost as important, whether the residents believed they had. But for now, none of the villagers could be found. And the rebels were hardly talking. What was obvious and beyond dispute by Sunday was only this: Whatever their motivation, the behavior of rebels in Qawalish, who have been supported by the NATO military campaign against Colonel Qaddafi, was at odds with the NATO mandate to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and at odds with rebel pledges to free and protect the Libyan population.

Moreover, the leadership of the Free Libyan Forces, for all the statements otherwise, appeared to lack the ability or inclination to prevent these crimes. When asked on Sunday about the looting and arson, the former Qaddafi military colonel who commands fighters in the mountains, Mukhtar Farnana, had little to say beyond being careful to insist that any looting was not officially sanctioned. “I haven’t any idea about that,” he said. “We did not give an order or information to do it.”

The problem could be framed another way: that the rebel commanders did not do enough to stop it. In a small town like Qawalish, what happened was, from a military perspective, preventable. A standing post or a few patrols each day to the shops, a checkpoint or two at the town’s edge with fighters checking identification, instructing their colleagues not to steal and stopping cars departing the town with stolen goods — these might have been enough. Instead, the capture of Qawalish has shown that as the war grinds through its fifth month, the rebels, emboldened by NATO support and fired with the certitude that now is their time, risk suspending the distinction between right and wrong.

As the rebels talk of pushing toward Tripoli, they risk embarrassing their backers, losing international support and fueling exactly the kind of war they have insisted they and NATO would prevent. The rebels say they plan to push further through the mountains soon, toward the city of Garyan. Will the villages along the way suffer Qawalish’s fate?

“The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now.”…..Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

 This month marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Luxemburg. This article, which draws on some of her most important writings, was first published in Socialist Voice in July 2008.

 From the first day it appeared online, Climate and Capitalism’s masthead has carried the slogan “Ecosocialism or Barbarism: there is no third way.” We’ve been quite clear that ecosocialism is not a new theory or brand of socialism — it is socialism with Marx’s important insights on ecology restored, socialism committed to the fight against ecological destruction. But why do we say that the alternative to ecosocialism is barbarism?

Marxists have used the word “barbarism” in various ways, but most often to describe actions or social conditions that are grossly inhumane, brutal, and violent. It is not a word we use lightly, because it implies not just bad behaviour but violations of the most important norms of human solidarity and civilized life.

The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” originated with the great Polish and German revolutionary socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg, who repeatedly raised it during World War I. It was a profound concept, one that has become ever more relevant as the years have passed.

Rosa Luxemburg spent her entire adult life organizing and educating the working class to fight for socialism. She was convinced that if socialism didn’t triumph, capitalism would become ever more barbaric, wiping out centuries of gains in civilization. In a major 1915 antiwar polemic, she referred to Frederick Engels’ view that society must advance to socialism or revert to barbarism and then asked, “What does a ‘reversion to barbarism’ mean at the present stage of European civilization?”

She gave two related answers. In the long run, she said, a continuation of capitalism would lead to the literal collapse of civilized society and the coming of a new Dark Age, similar to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire: “The collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration — a great cemetery.” (The Junius Pamphlet)

By saying this, Rosa Luxemburg was reminding the revolutionary left that socialism is not inevitable, that if the socialist movement failed, capitalism might destroy modern civilization, leaving behind a much poorer and much harsher world. That wasn’t a new concept – it has been part of Marxist thought from its very beginning. In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles…that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

In Luxemburg’s words: “Humanity is facing the alternative: Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution.” (A Call to the Workers of the World)

Capitalism’s Two Faces
But Luxemburg, again following the example of Marx and Engels, also used the term “barbarism” another way, to contrast capitalism’s loudly proclaimed noble ideals with its actual practice of torture, starvation, murder and war.

Marx many times described the two-sided nature of capitalist “progress.” In 1853, writing about British rule in India, he described the “profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization [that] lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”

Capitalist progress, he said, resembled a “hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.” (The Future Results of British Rule in India) Similarly, in a speech to radical workers in London in 1856, he said:

“On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire.” (Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper)

Immense improvements to the human condition have been made under capitalism — in health, culture, philosophy, literature, music and more. But capitalism has also led to starvation, destitution, mass violence, torture and even genocide — all on an unprecedented scale. As capitalism has expanded and aged, the barbarous side of its nature has come ever more to the fore.

Bourgeois society, which came to power promising equality, democracy, and human rights, has never had any compunction about throwing those ideals overboard to expand and protect its wealth and profits. That’s the view of barbarism that Rosa Luxemburg was primarily concerned about during World War I. She wrote:

“Shamed, dishonoured, wading in blood and dripping in filth, this capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics — as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity — so it appears in all its hideous nakedness …

“A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism.” (The Junius Pamphlet)

For Luxemburg, barbarism wasn’t a future possibility. It was the present reality of imperialism, a reality that was destined to get much worse if socialism failed to stop it. Tragically, she was proven correct. The defeat of the German revolutions of 1919 to 1923, coupled with the isolation and degeneration of the Russian Revolution, opened the way to a century of genocide and constant war.

In 1933, Leon Trotsky described the rise of fascism as “capitalist society … puking up undigested barbarism.” (What is National Socialism?)

Later he wrote: “The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.” (In Defense of Marxism)

More than 250 million people, most of them civilians, were killed in the wars of extermination and mass atrocities of the 20th Century. The 21st century continues that record: in less than eight years over three million people have died in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Third World, and at least 700,000 have died in “natural” disasters.

As Luxemburg and Trotsky warned, barbarism is already upon us. Only mass action can stop barbarism from advancing, and only socialism can definitively defeat it. Their call to action is even more important today, when capitalism has added massive ecological destruction, primarily affecting the poor, to the wars and other horrors of the 20th Century.

21st Century Barbarism
That view has been expressed repeatedly and forcefully by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Speaking in Vienna in May 2006, he referred explicitly to Luxemburg’s words:

“The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now.”

A few months earlier, in Caracas, he argued that capitalism’s destruction of the environment gives particular urgency to the fight against barbarism today:

“I was remembering Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg and the phrase that each one of them, in their particular time and context put forward; the dilemma ‘socialism or barbarism.’ …

“I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world — a real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet”.

“I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, “tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do.” I don’t believe that this is an exaggeration. The environment is suffering damage that could be irreversible — global warming, the greenhouse effect, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising sea level, hurricanes — with terrible social occurrences that will shake life on this planet.”

Chavez and the revolutionary Bolivarian movement in Venezuela have proudly raised the banner of 21st Century Socialism to describe their goals. As these comments show, they are also raising a warning flag, that the alternative to socialism is 21st Century Barbarism — the barbarism of the previous century amplified and intensified by ecological crisis.

Climate Change and ‘Barbarization’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been studying and reporting on climate change for two decades. Recently the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, gave a lecture at Cambridge University that described “a dystopic possible future world in which social problems are made much worse by the environmental consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

He said: “Climate change is, or could be, the additional factor which will exacerbate the existing problems of poverty, environmental degradation, social polarisation and terrorism and it could lead to a very chaotic situation.”

“Barbarization,” Munasinghe said, is already underway. We face “a situation where the rich live in enclaves, protected, and the poor live outside in unsustainable conditions.”

A common criticism of the IPCC is that its reports are too conservative, that they understate how fast climate change is occurring and how disastrous the effects may be. So when the Vice-Chair of the IPCC says that “barbarization” is already happening, no one should suggest that it’s an exaggeration.

The Present Reality of Barbarism
The idea of 21st Century Barbarism may seem farfetched. Even with food and fuel inflation, growing unemployment and housing crises, many working people in the advanced capitalist countries still enjoy a considerable degree of comfort and security.
But outside the protected enclaves of the global north, the reality of “barbarization” is all too evident.
*2.5 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, survive on less than two dollars a day.
*Over 850 million people are chronically undernourished and three times that many frequently go hungry.
*Every hour of every day, 180 children die of hunger and 1200 die of preventable diseases.
*Over half a million women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of them are in the global south.
*Over a billion people live in vast urban slums, without sanitation, sufficient living space, or durable housing.
*1.3 billion people have no safe water. 3 million die of water-related diseases every year.

The United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008 warns that unmitigated climate change will lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods.

In UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervi’s words:
“Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs.”

Among the 21st Century threats identified by the Human Development Report:
*The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.
*An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern
*China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
*Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. *Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
*Expanding health risks, including up to 400 million more people facing the risk of malaria.

To these we can add the certainty that at least 100 million people will be added to the ranks of the permanently hungry this year as a result of food price inflation.

In the UN report, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu echoes Munasinghe’s prediction of protected enclaves for the rich within a world of ecological destruction:

“While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid’.”

As capitalism continues with business as usual, climate change is fast expanding the gap between rich and poor between and within nations, and imposing unparalleled suffering on those least able to protect themselves. That is the reality of 21st Century Barbarism.

No society that permits that to happen can be called civilized. No social order that causes it to happen deserves to survive.Be part of the future: Join us on the March 26th, TUC National Demonstration against the cuts. Subsidised  transport is leaving from Guildford, Staines, Woking and Redhill. Only £2.00 RTN. Buy a ticket online, using a secure Paypal at www.saveourservic.es -OR- Email: guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk

The ConDems pave way for privatisation of public services!

In an article for the Daily Telegraph, David Cameron said that ‘complete change’ was needed in the public sector
 
Almost all public services could be opened up to private companies under plans being put forward by Cameron. Cameron claimed: “complete change” was needed in the public sector to improve standards for users.

The Tories’ plan calls for private companies, voluntary groups and charities to be allowed to bid to provide services as part of the “Big Society project”. It would allow the Government to transform public services without having to legislate repeatedly to allow different providers to get involved.

The changes, contained in a White Paper to be released any day now, could allow non-public providers to run schools, hospitals and council services such as maintaining parks, adult care, special schools and roads maintenance.

Cameron wrote: “We will create a new presumption – that public services should be open to a range of providers. Of course, there are some areas – like the national security services or the judiciary – where this wouldn’t make sense. But everywhere else should be open to real diversity.”

With providers competing with each other, there will be an imperative to drive down price. The savings will come at the cost of workers’ pay and conditions. The drive to reduce costs will inevitably affect the quality of the services, and will precipitate a race to the bottom among competing service providers.

Writing in the Telegraph, Cameron said: “Opening up public services to private sector providers was an important part of the “Big Society” agenda”. “I would argue that our plans to devolve power from Whitehall, and to modernise public services, are more significant aspects of our Big Society agenda than the work we’re doing to boost social action.”

Cameron’s version of “devolving power from Whitehall” is to give the power to the bankers and capitalists, those who caused the economic crisis. And where he writes “modernise” read privatise for the profits of a few. Speaking of the White Paper Cameron said: “It will put in place principles that will signal the decisive end of the current model of public services”.

“And it is a vital part of our mission to dismantle Big Government and build the Big Society in its place.” He said. “The grip of state control will be released and power will be placed in people’s hands. Professionals will see their discretion restored. There will be more freedom, more choice and more local control.”

But Cameron’s plan is to take public services out of the hands of the people, and put them in the hands of private global businesses, which are unaccountable. For the vast majority of people there will be less choice – and often no service at all, as the profitable services are cherry picked by big business, leaving less profitable contracts to fall by the way-side. 

Demonstrate to save public services and the NHS
Join the TUC demonstration on March on 26th. Coaches, subsidised by Unison are leaving Guildford, Woking, Staines and Redhill. Only £2.00 Rtn.
Buy a ticket at www.saveourservic.es using a secure paypal -OR-  Email:guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk

Aaron Porter – This Is Your Life!

What a month it was for Aaron Porter, NUS President. The Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford looks back at the lows and lows of a Tory low-life and bids farewell.

On the 29th January, Aaron Porter was invited to speak at the closing rally of the NUS/UCU “A Future that Works” demonstration in Manchester. As protesters gathered at the starting point on Oxford Road, about thirty activists from Hull and Leeds Universities accosted Porter and demanded that he justify his record. Instead of engaging with the students, Porter turned and hurried off. In true Benny Hill style, he found himself being followed by a growing number of demonstrators. Within a couple of minutes he was literally being chased through the streets of Manchester by almost half of those who had gathered for the march – perhaps about five hundred people – with chants including “Students, workers, hear us shout, Aaron Porter sold us out” and “Porter – out”. Eventually he took refuge in Manchester Metropolitan Union, protected by a heavy cordon of riot police.

Aaron Porter is escorted in to the Manchester Met University, pursued by 500 protesters

Unsurprisingly, Porter did not turn up to speak at the closing rally. NUS Vice-President and Further Education officer, Shane Chowan spoke in Porter’s place. He was drowned out by hostile chanting and pelted with eggs and was unable to finish his speech. Most of the speakers were heckled repeatedly.

After the rally, about a thousand students marched back into the city center. They were met by a huge and violent police presence, and were kettled in central Manchester’s Deangate.

The following day, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail reported that during Porter’s pursuit through the streets of Manchester, he was subjected to racial taunts and chanting. The Mail’s article was titled: “Student leader faces barrage of anti-Jewish abuse at rally as protesters accuse him of being a Tory.”

When activists contacted the two newspapers, The Mail claimed a photographer was the sole source of their story but refused to name him. The Telegraph said there were only two sources for their story, a PA photographer, and the NUS itself. The NUS official who heard the chants, is “believed to be an aide to Porter”, an NUS Press Officer said: “We cannot allow you to speak to the person directly. There is an ongoing police investigation into the allegations, and we feel it is not appropriate to discuss the matter.”

In an email to NUS members printed in the Financial Times, Porter said; “Just before the march started, I was surrounded by a particularly vicious minority of protesters more intent on shouting threatening and racist abuse at me rather than focusing on the issues.”  On January 30th, He sent a tweet that read: “I Will not back down to intimidation, and certainly not to racial abuse”, and in a Times article on January 31st he wrote of the protest: “However, before I was able to speak to the rally of thousands, a small group of people started to chant abuse to try to intimidate me, and there were audible anti-Semitic comments.”

Porter later admitted that he had not himself heard any racial abuse “The NUS had only confirmed the story when journalists contacted them for a comment”. In a statement through the NUS Press Office, Porter said: “I was not certain what was said by those shouting abuse at me, however I was informed by others present that amongst other things anti-Semitic comments were made. I have not made a specific complaint to the police as I did not clearly hear the contents of the chants myself.”

Allegations of racist chanting or abuse have been strongly denied and contemptuously shrugged off as a highly cynical attempt to salvage a sinking political career.

Two YouTube videos have emerged since the protest. One shows the moments before Porter was escorted into the Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union. Another substantially longer one, which is largely uncut, shows most of the protest. At no point are there anti-Semitic chants, nor chants of “no to racism,” which was reported in the Telegraph article but not in the Mail.

There was a BBC reporter outside Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union where Porter was taken. The BBC news reports made no mention of anti-Semitic chants.

Like the WMDs in Iraq, this looks like noxious New Labour spin. May be the weapons will turn up and video evidence of racial abuse will be made available, but I doubt it. Although no eyewitnesses have come forward to corroborate the Mail or Telegraph‘s claims, several have come forward to say that they heard no racist abuse.

A member of the Campaign Against Fees and Cuts said on their website: “We were at the front of the crowd which chased Porter, and thus would have heard any racist chants – let alone a “barrage”! We were also in possession of two of the four megaphones involved”.

Josie Hooker, a student at the University of Manchester was about 15 metres away from Porter for the majority of the march. She also claimed not to have heard anti-Semitic chants or the chants of “no to racism”. “At no point did I hear anti-Semitic abuse and at no point did I hear anyone shout ‘no to racism,’” she said. “Due to my position on the march, I believe that if a 20 strong group of people were shouting ‘no to racism’ in response to anti-Semitic or racist abuse, myself or one of the 15-20 odd friends and acquaintances present in various positions among the protesters would have heard it.”

She also suggested that the photographer who heard the chant “Tory Jew Scum” simply miss-heard “you’re a fucking Tory too,” which was chanted throughout the protest.

Peter Campbell, a medical student from Newcastle, also claimed to have heard no racial abuse. Referring to the “Aaron Porter we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too” chant, he said: “It is a chant of disgust at a man who has repeatedly set back the student movement. It is certainly not pleasant, it’s not meant to be. However, it is not anti-Semitic.”

Chris Marks, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, when asked if there were any anti-Semitic chants said: “Absolutely and categorically not. I was at the front of the group which instigated the protest. If there had been anti-Semitic chants we would have heard and challenged it. Anything shouted was jovial.”

Porter, kettled in Glasgow cries for the police

On the 12th February, Porter was in need of police protection again, when he was chased through the streets of Glasgow. As he left the Labour Students Conference at Glasgow University, where he had been speaking, he encountered a group of student activists. Occupiers from Glasgow University, who are battling against cuts on their campus.

The protesters crowded around the entrance as he left. In the words of one protester: “Having been sacrificed to us by his Labour bosses, so they could clear the door of the clearly terrifying mob, Aaron was kettled by us. Much screaming of “I don’t expect to be filmed!” and “I don’t want to be hit!” followed – nobody was hitting him, in fact he broke someone’s camera.- until he did a total comedy run away”. Showing uncharacteristic swift and decisive action, Porter immediately dived between one of the protesters’ legs and fled. Porter was forced into hiding somewhere on the Glasgow University campus. Even the Labour Club didn’t know where he was hiding. It’s an indictment of the disgraceful policies of the NUS leadership when even the Labour Students and Young Labour delegates appeared, to say the least, unconcerned about Porter’s wereabouts.

Porter’s recent betrayals began when he condemned the occupation of Millbank, whilst keeping silent about the much more extreme police violence. Secondly he flip-flopped, saying he had been “spineless”. He announced support for student occupations and promised he would obtain legal aid for occupiers which he didn’t do. Then he voted against NUS support for an anti-fees demo, instead choosing to back a useless “candelit vigil”.

The Daily Telegraph reported on 8th December that they have seen emails from Porter to the Government, leaked by his close associates. Trying to persuade ministers at the Department for Business to enact their planned 15 per cent cut in higher education funding without lifting the cap on fees. The NUS leadership urged ministers to cut grants and loans as an alternative to raising tuition fees. Aaron was ready to call for cuts of up to £800 million in grants behind the back of students.

In one email to the Department for Business, dated Oct 1, Porter suggested that £800 million should be “deducted from the grants pot” over four years. That would cut total spending on grants by 61 per cent. Porter also proposed the “introduction of a real rate of interest” for student loans.

In an email the following day, Graeme Wise, an NUS political officer, urged ministers seeking cuts to start with the “student support” package of grants and loans. Graeme Wise also suggested that the cuts in support could be imposed on students currently at university.The NUS’ plans also called for 2.4 billion to be cut from the universities’ teaching budget over four years, a reduction of 48 per cent.

The NUS have also been calling on NUS officers at different universities not to oppose hikes in fees, describing them as “relatively progressive” – completely at odds with what they said publicly. Another leaked memo told NUS officers to “engage” with university leaders rather than campaign for lower fees.

In response, the President of Cambridge University Students’ Union, Rahul Mansigani, said: “It is disappointing that anyone views as progressive a scheme that students up and down the country have campaigned against”.

Porter has been universally condemned by both students and NUS officers as a “sell-out”, a Tory and a careerist. He has been accused of giving into the government without a fight; spending more time condemning student protesters than arguing against the tuition fee rise; and more concerned with ingratiating himself with politicians than standing up for students

When newly elected, last summer he said in a Guardian interview, he would “define success as ensuring that a market in fees does not emerge”. Failure, he said, “would be a real market in fees coupled with cuts from the government”.

The Guardian interviewed him again on the 28th February and asked him, How then can you possibly claim to have been a success? His responses were almost delusional: “I still believe we’ve run a successful high-profile campaign. A disastrous campaign would be one that made no impact whatsoever. This made an indelible imprint in the public’s consciousness and in the political landscape. Did we get what we wanted? No, we didn’t. Would I have signed up to the proposals for trebled tuition fees? Not in a million years. But I think it would be wrong of me to say that this was not a successful campaign. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the coalition was under real pressure.”

The VOAG would argue that the campaign’s impact was achieved not by the NUS, but by the occupations and by the protesters, condemned by Porter, who invaded Millbank Tower back in November. Had students not organised outside the NUS structures, and had they not stormed Millbank; had 50,000 students simply marched peacefully through London, tuition fees would not have developed into the high-profile issue it has become.

Many Liberal Democrat candidates signed an NUS pledge before the election that they would vote against any fee increase. The breaking of this pledge by the Lib Dem leadership became a focus for Porter. Porter declared to the guardian  “Committing them to oppose any rise in tuition fees was a master-stroke”. The journalist replied: “Well it would have been a master stroke, I agree, if the Lib Dems had felt bound by it – but in the event they just tore it up”.

“I still think that it was a remarkable campaign tactic”, said Porter. “Because the pledge meant that one of the parties could not run away from it”. “It was the most effective campaign of 2010”.

“But they did run away from it”, replied the journalist, “didn’t they”? “They did,” he conceded, without missing a beat. “The preferred outcome from the pledge would’ve been that the Liberal Democrats stuck to it – but they didn’t.”

On the 21st February, Porter announced he would not be standing for re-election in the Student Union elections in April. Porter said that the campaign over fees is “moving into a different landscape” and the union needs a new president.

In an email to members, Porter wrote: “So this new regime brings with it a new landscape, and I believe the NUS needs reinvigorating to enter into the next phase of this campaign. After considerable soul-searching, I believe there needs to be a new President to lead the student movement into that next phase. As a result, I’ve resolved not to seek re-election at the National Conference this year”.

This is only the second time in over 40 years that an NUS President has not run for a second year in office. In a guardian interview following his announcement, Porter maintained he would be certain to win the presidency if he chose to stand. “Oh, without a doubt”. He predicted the NUS will elect a successor very much in his “image” – and said his tenure “had been a terrific success”.

Regarding the student protests, he told the Guardian, “I cannot see, on the issue of tuition fees, how illegal protest is helpful.” “Well tuition fees, whilst I disagree with them, are not the biggest evil in society. It is not the worst decision that the Labour government made to introduce them, and it is not the worst decision this coalition has made to increase them.”

He concluded his Guardian interview with: “For me the question is about what next year would’ve been like. And I think that the NUS, and also me personally, need to be able to draw a line under the tuition fee debate, and I suspected that my continuation as NUS president would’ve inhibited us to move on from the tuition fee issue”.

Aaron Porter then, leaves us with a sigh of resignation for the inevitable. ‘We lost, now lets move on’.  The Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford also gives a sigh, a sigh of utter contempt. What a waste of space.

There’s nothing inevitable about the education cuts, fee rises, or the implementation of the Bologna process and the marketisation of education. There is everything to play for. Education is only one area of the public sector that is under attach from the ConDem government. Workers And Students Unite is not an empty slogan,  together we can stop all cuts. There is an alternative, but we must first see the end of this government.The TUC National demonstration on the 26th March is the first step and a spring-board to develop anti-cuts groups in every town, college and university in Britain.There are coaches subsidised by Surrey Unison leaving from Staines, Woking, Guildford and Redhill. Everybody is welcome. Tickets are only £2.00 Rtn. You can buy a ticket on-line at http://www.saveourservic.es or email:guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk

UK unemployment total rises again

UK unemployment rose by 44,000 to almost 2.5 million in the three months to the end of December, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said last month. “Youth unemployment rose to a fresh record high, with more than one in five 16 to 24-year-olds out of work after a rise of 66,000 to 965,000”.

The unemployment rate is now 7.9%, with youth unemployment running at 20.5%. The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance also increased, by 2,400 last month to 1.46 million.

The number of people in part-time work because they could not find a full-time job rose by 44,000 to 1.19 million, another high since records began in 1992.“The latest UK labour market figures provide further evidence that the jobs recovery has gone into reverse,” said Tory economist Vicky Redwood. Long-term unemployment also deteriorated, with 17,000 more people out of work for more than a year, to a total of 833,000.

Other data from the ONS showed that average earnings rose by 1.8% in the year to December last year, slightly down on the 2.1% growth in the year to November. But this is significantly lower than the rate of inflation now around 5%. And when the hike in VAT is considered the conclusion can only be: ‘A Resesh-on’

The ONS says there were 40,000 more job vacancies in the three months to January than in the previous three months. But said that most of these new vacancies were low paid temporary jobs, working on the 2011 Census. Excluding these, there were 8,000 more vacancies.

Labour work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said this was a sign that the government could not rely on the private sector to create jobs.” There are still five people chasing every single job and in about a hundred constituencies, 10 people are chasing every job,” he told BBC News.

Most Tory analysts still expect unemployment to rise in the coming months, largely because of public sector spending cuts implemented by the government. “Unemployment is likely to increase throughout 2011 in the face of low growth and increasing job losses in the public sector,” said economist, Howard Archer.

Tory economists suggest the economy would have to grow at an annual rate of about 2% for unemployment to fall. In the final three months of last year, the economy shrank by 0.5%, few analysts expect GDP to top 2% this year. Speaking at a press conference to launch the latest Inflation Report, the governor of the Bank of England said it had lowered its growth forecasts following the weak growth data at the end of the year.

The Bank of England also said it expected inflation to remain high over the next year. Latest figures released on Tuesday showed that the Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation had hit 4%. This is expected to increase pressure on the Monetary Policy Committee to start raising interest rates.

The Bank of England expects series of interest rate rises this year. The question for many is how far rates will rise. However, interest rate rises will only lengthen the recession. There are also 793,000 people in the 16 to 24 age group who are economically inactive, and are not in full time education. They do not appear in the unemployment figures as, by definition, they are they are not looking for work.

The Poverty Premium –
It’s not cheap being poor

It is a shocking fact that families on a low income are still paying more for their basic goods and services than better-off families says a Save the Children report published this week. Save the Children has calculated that this annual ‘poverty premium’ can amount to more than £1,280 for a typical low-income family. Moreover, the poverty premium has risen by over £280 since Save the Children’s original research was conducted in 2007.

The poverty premium
The poverty premium is a notional extra cost that people on lower incomes can pay for goods and services, compared with the cost that is paid for the same goods and services by higher-income families.

Their report sets out the scale of the poverty premium and focuses particularly on the extra cost of gas and electricity bills, which account for 20% of the premium. Of all the elements of the poverty premium, the cost of gas and electricity to keep a home warm is an expense that no family can avoid. There is a clear link between living in cold, damp conditions for long periods and significant health risks. Families who cannot afford to pay the cost of heating their home adequately are putting their children’s health at risk says the report.

All children have the right to the best health possible, yet the evidence in Save the Children’s report shows how families on a low income struggle to pay for their gas and electricity and frequently compromise the warmth of their homes to reduce their bills. Of those who are fuel poor, 16.1% are families with children aged under 16, up from 11.8% in 2003. Many of these families will not be eligible for the government’s proposed Warm Home Discount.

The highest charges for gas and electricity are paid by those families who have a prepayment meter or who pay by standard credit. Prepayment meters are often installed for families on a low income who want to budget weekly or have been in debt. If families on a low income who pay the highest tariffs for gas and electricity- because they use payment meters- were charged the same amount as families who pay by direct debit, they would save, on average, over £250 a year. Save the Children is calling for all industries to ensure that the poorest do not pay more.

Low-income families shouldn’t be penalised for being poor. To ensure a fairer system for all vulnerable families, the report calls for all energy companies to provide a fixed rebate under the Warm Home Discount for families on a low income with children, using receipt of Child Tax Credit and income below £16,190 as a proxy for fuel poverty. (£16,190 is the first income threshold for entitlement to Child Tax Credit only.)

Save the Children is calling for The Department for Work and Pensions and the energy suppliers to run a pilot program to assess the feasibility of data-sharing, to allow direct payment of rebates to low-income families; to raise awareness of their rebates by promoting it to all customers; and to provide adequate notification of price increases to prepayment meter customers.The cost of living for low income families
Rising costs for low-income families comes at a time when the government is committed to cutting the welfare budget and public services. Families on low incomes are disproportionately reliant on welfare and public services, and consequently cuts in both areas of government spending will have serious impacts on the poorest. This new financial austerity comes on top of existing difficulties that low-income families have to overcome to make ends meet. It is mainly those on low incomes who tend to be unable to access favourable payment terms, whether for household or personal items they need to buy, fuel they need to purchase or loans they need to secure.

For many families on low incomes, the amount they either earn (from low-paid work) or receive in benefits is not enough to cover their basic living costs. A couple working full-time with two children needs £29,731 a year, or £402.83 per week (excluding money for rent and childcare), to afford a basic but acceptable standard of living. The same family on benefits will only receive £235.29 per week, which is 62% of the amount they need. Church Action on Poverty’s recent research report has provided further evidence of the difficulties families are having in meeting basic living costs. The report concludes that families on a low income need to borrow to survive.

Many low-income households choose to manage their budget in cash to ensure they have control over their total spending, which is a rational, safe approach that limits risk and minimises exposure to unexpected costs and outgoings. Many households (690,000 in 2007/8) do not have access to a bank account or other banking facilities that would allow them to pay a range of bills by direct debit, which is often the cheapest payment option for products and services. Some low-income families have a poor credit history, which means they have no access to affordable, low or no interest credit. The credit that they can access is therefore charged at the highest interest rates in the market.

The cost of credit
Households with a low or variable income often have a poor or non-existent credit history and are therefore unable to access reasonably priced credit from mainstream lenders (banks and building societies). Often the only option available is from commercial lenders (rent-to-buy, catalogues, doorstep lenders) who charge high interest rates on goods with a mark-up on retail prices. The annual percentage rate (APR) charged by commercial lenders can vary from 50–1,000%, compared with less than 30% APR charged by a mainstream lender. A basic household cooker can cost a family without access to low-interest credit a total of £669, more than two and a half times the cost of the same cooker bought outright.

The cost of borrowing
Low-income families with a poor credit history who need to borrow cash do not have the option of using a 0% bank overdraft facility or securing a low-interest bank or credit card loan. The only options available are high cost, such as doorstep lenders. A £500 cash loan from a doorstep lender could cost the borrower £750.

The cost of quick money: pawnbrokers, payday lenders and cheque cashing
A household may need to be able to access cash at short notice, but for those without a bank account this could mean using pawnbrokers, payday lenders or buy-back stores. A loan from a pawnbroker of £100 over six months will cost between 5% and 12% per month (equivalent to an APR of 70% to 100%), making the total cost of the loan between £170 and £200. Households without a bank account who need to cash a £200 cheque from a third party quickly will be charged a fixed fee and interest. For example, a £200 cheque would cost £12 to cash at Cash Converters.

The cost of insurance
Those on lower incomes often pay more for insurance. Insurance premiums are calculated in accordance with the risk of an event, and those on low incomes tend to live in areas where there is a higher risk of car crime and property theft. Families on a low income who live in more deprived areas can pay on average 48% more for car insurance and 93% more for home contents insurance.

The cost of gas and electricity
The extra cost of gas and electricity for low-income families accounts for 20% of the poverty premium. This significant additional cost arises because many low-income families pay for their gas and electricity using prepayment meters, which attract one of the highest tariffs. The lowest tariffs are offered by energy suppliers to customers who can either pay by direct debit, online, or who are eligible for the supplier’s social tariff. Low-income families who do not have a bank account cannot make direct debit payments. In addition, the eligibility criteria for the social tariffs of five of the ‘big six’ energy suppliers do not include families with children. In the last six years gas and electricity bills have more than doubled, and it is predicted that these increases will continue. Any across the board percentage increases in the cost of gas or electricity tariffs will have the greatest impact on those paying the highest tariffs – in other words, those using prepayment meters, including many low-income families. It is therefore likely that the poorest will be hardest hit by increases in energy costs.

Families on a low income with children can be affected by a number of difficulties when it comes to paying their energy bills. In addition to having to use payment methods that incur an expensive tariff and not being eligible for the current option for cheaper fuel under the social tariff, they often:
• Accumulate debt because they cannot afford their energy bills
• Are less aware of their energy use and how it is charged
• Lack access to information that would allow them to identify and secure cheaper energy deals.

Fuel poverty
The consequence of high fuel costs for those on a low income is fuel poverty – defined as being where households have to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel. Ofgem estimates that there are 5 million people in fuel poverty in the UK, representing about 18% of all households. In the UK, 7% of lone-parent households and 9.9% of couples with children live in fuel poverty. No parent wants to put their children’s health at risk, but figures for the UK showed that 5% of children were living in accommodation with inadequate heating. Cold living conditions increase children’s susceptibility to illness, compromise healthy weight gain and are detrimental to children’s respiratory health. A recent study has shown that respiratory problems were more than twice as prevalent in children who lived for three years or longer in homes that lack affordable warmth (15%), compared with children who had never lived in homes that were hard to heat during the previous five years (7%). In addition, it has shown that the mental health of adolescents can also suffer if homes are poorly heated. Families who can only afford to heat one room risk reducing their children’s education attainment if there is no warm, peaceful space to do homework. When inadequate heating is improved, research has recorded a marked reduction in the number of days pupils have off school. The government recognised the link between fuel poverty, inadequately heated homes and poor health and introduced the Fuel Poverty Strategy 2001.

The Strategy aims to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 and “to ensure that by 2010 no older householder, no family with children, and no householder who is disabled or has a long-term illness need risk ill health due to a cold home” (p.10). It is unlikely that the government will hit its targets, largely because of the unprecedented increases in gas and electricity bills between 2003 and 2009. In response to these developments, the government has announced an independent review of the fuel poverty target and definitions. The introduction of a social tariff was one scheme to tackle fuel poverty. It has been partially successful in reducing the cost of gas and electricity for vulnerable groups but its impact has been focused on pensioner households, leaving other vulnerable groups, including low-income families with children, still paying relatively high fuel costs. As stated above, only one of the major six energy suppliers includes families on a low income with children in their eligibility criteria. So, in effect, a family on a low income that is eligible for a social tariff from one energy supplier could be denied the social tariff of another. Save the Children has conducted a qualitative research study that asked a group of families who are affected by the poverty premium about their experiences of paying for their gas and electricity. The research shows that families interviewed were not aware of the existence of social tariffs; had only a limited knowledge of their own tariff and energy costs, and had no appreciation of the information available to help them secure cheaper energy bills. Without the information, or access to the best deal, they are left paying more than they need to and are yet more vulnerable to fuel poverty.
Warm Home Discount

The government’s consultation paper, Warm Home Discount proposes that in England, Scotland and Wales, the social tariff is replaced by a fixed rebate on electricity bills that will be sent directly to a core group of pensioners on pension credit (with the scope of eligibility increasing between 2011 and 2015) using a data-matching system between the energy companies and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The value of the rebate will increase from £130 to £140 by 2015. The consultation paper also proposes that the same fixed rebate should be given to a broad group of consumers who are vulnerable to fuel poverty. Energy companies will be given discretion to decide which of their customers should be included within the broader group.

Under the previous voluntary system, energy companies were given discretion to decide which of their customers would benefit from the social tariff. As already discussed, the outcome was that only one of the largest six energy companies ensured low-income families with children were eligible for their social tariff. The current proposals for Warm Home Discount risk repeating the same inequity. Energy companies could still decide not to include low-income families with children within their broader discretionary group. The result would be that families who struggle to pay their fuel bills will again miss out on financial support. Save the Children’s report calls for the government to ensure that low-income families with children are included within the group that receives the fixed rebate. This would lower the cost of fuel for these families and thereby reduce their poverty premium. Families with lower fuel bills would be able to heat their homes adequately without fear of going into debt. We propose that families with an annual income below £16,190 and in receipt of Child Tax Credit should be eligible for the rebate so that the mistake of leaving children out, made under the social tariff system, is not repeated. A pilot data-sharing project could be undertaken for families in receipt of Child Tax Credit, in the same way that a pilot project was run to establish the feasibility of data-sharing for pensioners on Pension Credit between the DWP and the energy companies.

Prepayment meters
A prepayment meter is a system that requires cash to be paid before energy can be consumed. Some meters take cards or tokens on to which cash can be credited. The tariffs charged for prepayment meters are more expensive than direct debit or online tariffs. Yet despite the relatively high cost, the majority of families on prepayment meters have an annual income less than £17,500. In Britain, 13% of households pay for their gas and/or electricity using prepayment meters, with almost two-thirds of these households using prepayment meters to pay for both gas and electricity. More than half of households on prepayment meters receive a means-tested benefit or benefits for disability. Ofgem’s own investigation found that prepayment meter customers were paying a premium that was greater than the extra costs involved in supplying the energy via the meter.

To ensure that the tariff for prepayment meters was cost-reflective, Ofgem introduced new licensing conditions for energy suppliers. Since September 2009 the new conditions have required energy suppliers to ensure that the price paid by prepayment meter customers reflects the cost of this form of supply, when compared with direct debit and standard credit tariffs. Ofgem have concluded that the new conditions have led to the average premium for prepayment meters compared with direct debit falling to £69 from £111 since October 2007. Nevertheless, Save the Children’s investigation into the cost of the poverty premium based on a real-life example revealed a differential of £253.

The prepayment meter can be an effective debt management system for the energy company because it allows the amount owing (or a portion of it) to be taken from future cash deposits into the meter, before calculating the remaining credit available. In 2007, more than 350,000 pre-payment meters were installed; 63% of these were put in place to recover debt. Some families who have tried to change from a prepayment meter to an alternative cheaper payment method have found their plan effectively blocked because the energy companies charge them a deposit of £250. This additional cost would prohibit many low income families from switching. The high tariffs associated with prepayment meters result in high fuel bills for low-income families and these in turn can lead to debt. Despite trying to budget for fuel costs, many families find themselves in debt, particularly during the winter.

A number of families featured in Save the Children’s report say they put double the amount into the prepayment meter in the winter compared with the summer. Families who try to avoid debt describe a range of approaches to minimise their energy use, many of which amount to self disconnection or self-rationing. These can have a significant negative impact on the health and wellbeing of families.

Some families have to bear the cost of using the ‘emergency‘ facility. In a worst-case scenario, a household may find that it is on a prepayment meter but is not eligible for the social tariff offered by local energy suppliers. The household may then find itself also paying off arrears from a (previously unknown) price increase, as well as paying back debt accrued from previous bills. In addition, it may be paying the charge to use the ‘emergency’ facility. The scale of these costs for families on a low income is significant.

In 2009 there were 502,631 customers repaying electricity debt through prepayment meters and 365,036 customers repaying gas debt through prepayment. Once an energy company has installed a prepayment meter to recoup debt from a family, it can be very difficult for the family to change to another payment method as a way of reducing their energy bills. Paula, mother of one, explained that she had got into arrears of approximately £800 when she was paying quarterly bills and the energy company had installed a prepayment meter to collect the arrears at a rate of £3.50 per week. Lana, her partner and three children had had a prepayment meter installed and reported that, “of every £10 which went on, £3 went towards paying arrears”. Matt explained that he had topped their gas up by £10 the previous day; after their arrears were taken off they were left with £3. This allowed “the four children to have a bath, and us to have the heating on for one and a half hours at tea time to warm the house up”.

Awareness and consumer choice
The current energy market works best for customers who are aware of their energy use and charges and who can navigate the information energy companies provide to minimise their costs. Informed consumers are able to switch between suppliers to get the cheapest deal, and price comparison websites can make this process more straightforward. However, research reveals that lack of awareness stops many families from accessing the best prices.

This lack of awareness is compounded by a lack of access to information, which is primarily through the Internet. Many low-income families do not have Internet access. Although 70% of households in the UK had access to the Internet by the end of March 2009, 50% of households with an income below £11,500 did not have Internet access, compared with 5% of households with an income of over £30,000. A lack of awareness and lack of access to information restricts consumer choice. Price comparison websites show that customers who are able to pay by direct debit from a bank account can secure the lowest cost for their energy. This price difference for families who cannot pay by direct debit amounts to an extra £250 a year.