January 05, 2014

Is this how we will greet the New Year

Is this how we will greet a New Year, to the raucous sound of racism, inequality and poverty, and the mindless applause which spurs them on?

Or can we set aside the politics of division, of class and money, and instead give our ovations to real, inspired change born of our innermost need to see all people, all living things, in mutual benefit of the resources we share.

Will we pull back from the trash culture of negative excess – excessive inequality, excessive pollution, excessive debt and excessive hate – and turn towards more joyful pursuits like sharing, giving, growing, advancing. 

Turning a blind eye to the suffering of others will not bring us the world we wish to see. Poverty is not a crime, but inequality on the scale we see today is.
In the 7th richest country in the world, the grinding pain of the trap of poverty should by now be completely abolished. Yet it continues, entrenched in our society, and gets worse.

Most people on welfare are in work. One third of all UK families are relying on welfare to make up more than half their income, and more than 90 per cent of new housing benefit claims over the past two years have been made by employed people. This is unsustainable and wrong. Unsustainable because claims of this growing magnitude are both costly and a negative drain on the taxpayer. Wrong because in the 7th richest country in the world, poverty should be impossible.
Welfare and benefits keep families in the poverty trap. They do so by shelling out just enough to keep people going, whilst removing any sense of self worth and forcing people into the first low paid job which comes to hand. The price of housing is rising too steeply for most pockets, and rental payments have followed suit. Add that to a freeze on wages and rising living costs and you can see that this is heading to a pretty grim picture of rising welfare claims and desperate poverty. 13 million people already live below the poverty line. The rise in the number of foodbanks – currently around 400 – illustrates just how bad the problem is. A person should not be expected to choose between food and fuel. 

There is an obvious and enlightened solution, and that is the Citizens Income. This is a universal payment to every man and woman as an individual right, and would be enough to cover all basic food, clothing and housing needs. It wouldn’t be fancy, but it would be simple to administer because there would be no means testing – everyone would get it. Those earning more than enough would be taxed accordingly, thus smoothing the playing field.

The current social security system is demeaning and ignores the real roots of poverty. A Citizens Income would transform social security from a compensatory system into an emancipatory system, one that trusts people to make their own decisions, and does not stigmatize them for their circumstances.

Just imagine what the country would look like if we could all take time to look for the right job, learn and train whilst our core needs were being looked after, choose to stay home and look after the children.

The welfare state as we know it has outgrown its purpose. Poverty is a mean old master, and the welfare system, as we know it, sets a trap from which it is very hard to escape. A Citizens Income would ensure self-respect and participation. Many studies have shown that this type of income doesn’t make people lazy. On the contrary it stimulates us to do more, do better. It provides purpose and dignity, closes the income gap and increases choice.

How can we not afford to educate our children, to feed them well and house them properly; how can we not afford to give them choices and give reign to their talents for the common good.
2014 could be the year when the first steps to envisage a Citizens Income are planted firmly in the ground. It could be the year for preparing a fertile foundation from which could grow a sustainable and classless society in which all could flourish. We can afford a Citizens Income, and we can’t afford to miss the opportunity.

August 15, 2013

Failure of multiculturalism? No, Failure of Government

There has been much talk about the apparent failure of multiculturalism, but little talk about the successes.

In Newport, where I have lived for 30 years, multiculturalism has long been a way of life, but that’s not to say it can’t be improved.

The media punishes us with scaremongering ideas of hoards of immigrants crossing the channel. Government is worse. It continually announces immigration figures as if they are a bad thing, yet government doesn’t have a firm idea of what the figures are. What we do know is that per head of population, Germany has twice as many immigrants, and welcomes them.

We also know that the UK is not a poor country. However, the distribution of wealth distorts the picture. In the UK wealth is concentrated into the hands of the very rich few. Conversely poverty among the rest is increasing. Immigrants are the traditional scapegoat for all our ills, and right now they are being wrongly blamed for this increasing poverty.

It is government policy which is creating inequality, not immigration. Migration is natural. In fact without the natural urge to move around, the first humans may not have left the East African rift valley 200,000 years ago.

The migration of culture is a slightly different matter. Its success depends on mutual understanding, and without this understanding tolerance is difficult. Yet we like to think we are a tolerant people.

When another state joins the EU, the resultant influx of people from another culture is inevitable. It is how we deal with it which counts. Fear of ‘the other’ manifests itself in several ways, but all too often the flames of fear are fanned by government and media alike. ‘They are taking our jobs.’ ‘They are using our healthcare’.

The blatant omission here is ‘Who are they?’

That is precisely where multiculturalism is being forced to fail.  People living in the UK have a right to know more about the people coming to join us. We need to know about their values, their religions, their ethnicity and education. We need to know their history and their politics. In short we need to understand our differences and our similarities. All this could be provided simply and cheaply through TV programmes and news items, newspaper articles and websites. Multiculturalism works. It always has. 

We do not have a failure of multiculturalism. We have a failure of government.