15 Oct 2008

Blog Action Day: call for a Green New Deal


"The poor are financing the rich. If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the unjust and violent systems for wealth creation which create poverty by robbing the poor of their resources, livelihoods and incomes."
Vandana Shiva, campaigner and author
Last year nearly 16,000 sites signed up for the Blog Action Day - 2008 looks set to be even bigger. As the organisers say: “Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.” Of course talking is all well and good - and many of us would argue we've seen too much of that already - anyhow here is a ramble to support this blog day - I still have the flu but hopefully some of it will still make sense...

Labour has said much of their commitment to tackle poverty - and their are some limited achievements - Sure Start children’s centres, raising the school leaving age, the national minimum wage, flexible hours for parents and carers, better conditions for part-time workers, the Decent Homes programme.

Yet a look at the wider picture reveals a disturbing picture - Labour have shifted taxation from the rich to the poor, cut corporation tax from 33% to 28% and capital gains tax from 40% to 18%, and introduced a new Entrepreneurs’ Relief scheme, taxing the first million of capital gains at just 10%! You will also remember Labour tried to raise the income tax paid by the poorest earners from 10% to 20% and they have lifted the inheritance tax threshold from £300,000 to £700,000, and maintained the cap on the highest rates of council tax. Add to this their vigorous prosecution of benefits cheats, while allowing tax avoidance, mostly by the very rich, to reach an estimated £41billion.

Plus Help the Aged and Friends of the Earth have had to take the government to court because the Government have not made good on fuel poverty - indeed figures of predicted rises in fuel poverty this winter are deeply concerning. And let's not even consider in this post Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of Labour's thoroughly unethical foreign policy...

Plus inequalities are rising - Indeed a read of the 'Tackling health inequalities: 2007 Status Report on the Programme for Action' is depressing - this was the third and final annual report looking at how the the government was doing in reducing this particular strand of inequality. The Dept of Health released it the day after the budget, and late in the day, so unsurprisingly it picked up very little coverage. It's essentially a yardstick report, taking the 'normal' population and the 'deprived' population and comparing everything eg: how many pieces of fruit people eat, how often kids get runover, how many women smoke during pregnancy, the difference in attainment between those who qualify for for free school meals and those that don't etc.

Lots of the simple stats are staggering, but in terms of closing or widening gaps, two of the key indicators show a growing gulf between rich and poor: infant mortality rates are higher AND growing among those whose dads have manual labour jobs in comparsion to the national average - and the difference in life expectancy rates between those living in deprived areas and
those living in richer areas are also growing.

This report makes crystal clear that 12 years of Labour has left some of the most vulnerable in our society - the youngest and the oldest - worse off. Obviously, an endless number of policy areas impact on these stats, from taxation, employment, housing, education to local government to name a few, but too often it is the failure of the NHS to adequately fulfil its obligations which is the problem - eg the number of GPs per head of the population varies massively between rich and poor areas. One Green party press officer wrote: "I haven't seen a more damming report of the government's track record in a long time "(see BBC's coverage of the report here).
Consumer debts - mortgages, loans and credit card bills - overtook the entire gross domestic product. To put it another way, the British now owe more than the value of the produce of every office, farm and factory in the land. This is a bankrupt island.
Nick Cohen 12th Oct 2008 The Observer

Of course the 'Credit Crunch' and recession mean that many without the cushion of savings to break their fall, will be tumbling towards poverty. Perhaps worryingly recessions have always had the potential to persuade voters that their interests and their families interests must come first. Where will this leave us in terms of promises to tackle international poverty - all that hope with Blair, Bono and Geldoff yet little has changed - Make Poverty History's website shows inequality is growing and we are no where near on target to reach those 2015 commitments - although of course I welcome Mandelson's words this week of hopes to end child poverty in Africa....

But hey we cannot mention poverty without considering one of the most important issues of all - the impact climate change is having and will have - see my speech at the Harvest Festival on 5th Oct - perhaps more positive than my rant here - anyhow I quote Oxfam who show that the average Somali is about 100 times more likely to die from events caused by climate change than the average American, despite emitting roughly 16,000 times less carbon. Are we going to take responsibility for our emissions?

Certainly Labour have raised the issue of climate change internationally yet shamefully our emissions still rise - talk but no action or rather worse - the wrong actions like supporting aviation growth - indeed Ed Miliband looks set to lobby to remove aviation from renewable energy targets - this is his first test as the secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change and he fails dismally if that is what happens. The UK has the largest aviation sector in Europe and if the Renewable Energy Directive is amended to exclude it, the EU will open up the door for other countries to plead special cases for their most polluting industries

Today's financial crisis opens up the debate over what sort of economic system we wish to create for the future. Let us hope it does not lead to the grim future Naomi Wolf outlines in the video I posted earlier this week here. Surely now all can see the deep flaws in free-market capitalism? We now have the opportunity to develop a fairer system of international economic governance and to redistribute the spoils of globalisation.

The Green New Deal launched recently by Green party leader Caroline Lucas offers us the ways forward we need to take - more here. Indeed the idea seems to have caught on - this Sunday top economists and the UN also called for a Green New Deal - see here - the initiative is already being seriously considered - I will have to look more closely to see how it differs from the one proposed by Caroline Lucas and others but am now too tired to scribble more. Perhaps in all this we must not forget that social justice and environmental justice are two sides of the same coin - we cannot have one without the other.

1 comment:

Philip Booth said...

Blog Action Day 2008 has now come and gone - See highlights of the successful day:

http://blogactionday.org