What does Inequality Look Like? 

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Bryan Gould, was a Labour  MP, and now lives in New Zealand.

What does inequality look like? In a society where the gap between rich and poor has widened significantly, what evidence of that gap would one expect to see?
A dramatic and painful answer to that question was provided to us this week with the shocking image of the burning London tower block. If we ever wanted evidence of how – even in a society that is relatively affluent – the poor can be disregarded while the rich pursue their own interests, this was it.
The “towering inferno” occurred in one of London’s most affluent boroughs. While around 120 poor families were crammed into Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block, most of the borough comprises leafy suburbs and million-pound houses.
The borough’s elected local authority apparently saw it as its first priority to lift property values in the borough and, as a necessary step to that end, to corral the poor into limited locations, getting them off the streets, out of sight and out of mind. The residents of Grenfell Tower, it seems, sensed that this was the case – a perception borne out when the concerns they repeatedly expressed about the safety of the tower block were ignored.
We all saw the consequence of that neglect. It is already clear, even before the necessary inquiries into the tragedy have been set up, that the building was unsafe and had been from the moment that the first tenants had taken up residence.
There were, it seems, no fires sprinklers. The fire alarms were inadequate. The building design made no attempt to inhibit an outbreak of fire and on the contrary ensured that flames would spread rapidly. Worst of all, it seems that the cladding attached to the building when it was refurbished a little time ago was of “limited combustibility” – and we now know that any degree of combustibility was too much.
These manifestations – literally of “care-lessness” – reflect an order of priorities that should have no place in a civilised society. The local authority seems to have been more concerned with saving the ratepayers money, avoiding “unnecessary” regulation, and promoting the interest of the wealthy in seeing property values rise, rather than in providing a safe living environment for those who could not afford to buy their own homes.
We might have hoped that the democratic process would have ensured that the interests of the poor could not have been so easily swept under the carpet. But, sadly, the western world offers many instances of how democracy can be diverted to serve the interests of the already powerful. In Donald Trump’s America, for example, the President is celebrating his “achievement” in denying health care to 23 million Americans so that he can deliver billions of dollars in tax relief to big corporates.
In New Zealand, we like to think that we are spared such excesses. We know, because we read about it, that there are people who are homeless – living in cars and garages – and that there are many children growing up in poverty, suffering ill-health and inadequate education as a result.
We read about it, but it fails to make an impact on us, because our own lives are relatively comfortable. It is someone else’s problem – the government’s – and when we cast our votes to elect a government, we are more concerned with how much tax we pay than about the cold, damp rooms, the overcrowding, the wheezing lungs and the empty tummies.
Thankfully, these attitudes do not produce by way of consequence – or have not done so far – anything remotely as dramatic as a flaming tower block. We do not, after all, have many tower blocks available to test out degrees of combustibility – or culpability.
But the damage we do to ourselves – as a society and to its individual members – can be just as serious as the fire at Grenfell Tower. The flames that engulfed so many were a demonstration – cinematic in its power and intensity – of what inequality can mean. We have persuaded ourselves that we can live with the less dramatic but no less lasting penalties that we choose in effect to impose on our fellow citizens.
We may not force them to jump out of burning windows. We simply condemn them to a lifetime of disadvantage.
Bryan Gould 16 June 2017

#Grenfell – Negligence beyond Belief

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The shock and grief, the outpouring of emotions from anger, sadness and depair is what we are all experiencing. The full scale of this appalling tragedy at the #Grenfell fire leaves us numb. Those responsible are trying to shift opinion in order to avoid blame. Some criticise people by saying they are politicisng this tragic event. But the cause of this event was indeed political – austerity. For that reason it is inherently politicised. It was only this week when Theresa May admitted that austerity was unnecessary, avoidable, a political choice. In that, they are culpable and their actions inexcusable. They will not avoid blame; justice will be done.

There needs to be a full inquest regarding these deaths, not merely an enquiry, where in years to come evidence goes missing or locked away for 80 years

Ten shocking facts about #Grenfell

From leftfutures.org

Britain was shocked yesterday at the sight of Grenfell Tower, a block of flats that housed as many as 600 people in West London, engulfed by flames in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Since the fire, a number of shocking facts have become apparent, and Theresa May has called for a public enquiry:

  1. * Tower lies in the wealthiest locality in the country, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The average income is over £100,000 and the average property is sold for close to £2,000,000. David Cameron and Roman Abramovich both own a house there. The residents of Grenfell Tower are mainly working-class and ethnic minority, living in the cheapest accommodation in the borough, provided through the borough’s council, which pays KCTMO public money to manage the building. Senior managers at KCTMO earned £650,000 between them last year.
  2. *The residents formed an association, the Grenfell Action Group “to record our struggle and… remain as evidence for future generations of how our community has been mistreated by RBKC [the borough’s council] and its social housing management agents the Kensington & Chelsea TMO (KCTMO).” The Group raised serious concerns about fire risk following near catastrophes at other KCTMO properties but were ignored, causing them to write “[we] firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.” 90% of residents signed a petition for an investigation into KCTMO’s handling of safety concerns.
  3. *The residents sought legal support to force KCTMO to improve safety in Grenfell Tower, but could not afford it due to cuts in legal aid. In 2009, under Labour, England and Wales had the highest per capita spending on legal aid in the world, before Conservative austerity measures cut it.
  4. *£10m was spent refurbishing Grenfell Tower from 2014-16, without addressing residents’ safety concerns or installing sprinklers. Instead, cladding was added to make the building look more attractive from the outside (presumably, to richer people who lived elsewhere in Kensington). Residents were told that the building was designed in such a way that a fire in one flat would not spread to others, and therefore advised to stay in their homes in case of a fire. This proved not to be the case,possibly because the cladding was flammable.
  5. *In 2009, a coroner’s report into another fatal tower block fire in London recommended that the government ensure sprinklers are installed during refurbishments. In 2014, given the lack of response from government, Labour MP and former firefighter Jim Fitzpatrick, pressed this in a parliamentary debate. Conservative minister Brandon Lewis said: “Sprinklers work. We know that. No one can deny it… They are an effective way of protecting lives and property.” But he rejected the idea that the government should enforce the fitting of sprinklers, citing the need to reduce the burden of regulation. Gavin Barwell, his successor as Housing Minister, and now Theresa May’s Chief of Staff, pledged a review of building regulations in this area, but never carried it out.
  6. *312 Conservative MPs voted against a Labour bill last year which required landlords to make homes “fit for human habitation”. 72 of those are themselves private landlords.
  7. *Ten fire stations and 500 firefighters’ jobs have been cut since 2009. Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London and now Foreign Secretary, told an assembly member objecting to these cuts to “get stuffed”. The new mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, will review the cuts.
  8. *Thousands of ordinary people have donated money, supplies and time to help the victims of the fire, including many Islamic groups. According to witnesses and survivors, the Muslims who were awake for Ramadan prayers, having fasted all day, were crucial to raising the alarm and helping neighbours from the building.
  9. *As of Thursday, after decades of Conservative rule, Kensington is represented by a Labour MP (Emma Dent Coad) who has a strong record of campaigning against gentrification, for housing rights and writes a blogendorsed by the Grenfell Action Group.
  10. *Theresa May visited Grenfell today, but refused to speak to a single resident.
    To sum up: in the richest borough in the country, poor people died in their homes, despite repeatedly warning the authorities of safety concerns and possibly as a direct result of actions taken by KCTMO. The government knew what should be done to avert such tragedies and did nothing. Cuts stopped the tragedy from being prevented through legal action or mitigated by the fire service. Those responsible remain in power. But the people are fighting back.

 

Jeremy Corbyn proving them wrong…

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At first, they ignored Jeremy Corbyn.

Then, they laughed at him.

Then they attacked him (and how).

Now he’s winning and saving the Labour Party.

Next stop is winning and saving the UK.

The fight goes on.

 

Hung Parliament a Stunning Victory for Corbyn’s Labour Party in UK Elections

 

What do unions think of Labour’s manifesto?

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http://www.union-news.co.uk/breaking-unions-welcome-labours-manifesto/

Unions have welcomed Labour’s election manifesto, praising it as “impressive”, a “chance for real change” and “a real opportunity to build a better Britain”.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “This is an exciting and progressive platform on which Labour can fight the next election. It offers people a real opportunity to help build a better Britain.

“Jeremy understands how ordinary hardworking men and women are suffering in the Conservative Age of Austerity. David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May and Philip Hammond have pulled off the trick of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich – the reverse of Robin Hood! – to bail out the fat cats and bankers who caused the economic crisis of 2008.

“In contrast Jeremy wants to rebuild Britain to create a fairer, more modern society, with a more productive economy, that delivers for all the people, not just the few, and is fit for the 21st century.

“We especially welcome the promise to bring Britain’s railways back into public ownership – a policy on which ASLEF has campaigned passionately ever since John Major’s ill-starred privatisation of British Rail in 1994 – and freeze passenger fares across the network.

“This is an exciting, and sensible, socialist platform on which any of the great Labour Party leaders of the past – Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee, and Harold Wilson – would have been happy to stand. That’s why I urge people to vote Labour on 8 June and help return a Labour government to build a better Britain.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Labour’s pledges to end the public sector pay cap, improve collective bargaining, repeal anti-trade union legislation and strengthen employment rights stand in stark contrast to the Conservatives’ bogus claims on workers’ rights.

“Labour’s manifesto sets out a clear commitment to many long-standing PCS industrial issues and demands, including an end to the privatisation of public services, renationalisation of public utilities and raising the pay of civil and public service workers.

“Tax reforms we have long campaigned for – including the ‘Robin Hood tax’ – offer the opportunity to ensure that those with the greatest wealth contribute more. Coupled with much-needed investment in HMRC to go after those who evade and avoid tax, these reforms will provide essential and much-needed investment in our public services.

“Plans to reform social security, including scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax, ending benefit sanctions and reinstating housing benefit for those under 21, are most welcome and signal a shift away from the policy of demonising claimants doggedly pursued by the Tories.

“Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have always shown great support for PCS campaigns and our members, and their pledges are in stark contrast to what the Tories have to offer. We have been clear that our message to our members is that another Tory government would be the worst possible outcome.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “This is an exciting, ambitious vision for a big-hearted, inclusive Britain that will build better lives for the many not the few. What’s not to like? Of course, as the head of transport union which has long campaigned to see rail brought back into public ownership I am delighted on behalf of TSSA members to welcome Labour’s commitment to taking back control of rail from corporate franchise holders who for too long have been able to get away with extracting profit out of our rail system without having to plough back into it in investment.

“Great news that the construction of HS2 is to be extended into Scotland as is that HS3 and Crossrail 2 will also be built. Good quality rail links are at the heart of a modern economy and today we have been not just been given the plan but the commitment to bringing every area of Britain onto 21st century track.

“This manifesto will transform Britain’s rail industry and help underpin the expansion of a high speed, high-tech economy. Our members too will be delighted at the commitment to a £10 living wage which will lift so many of their fellow workers and family members off the bread line. The commitment to house building, an industrial strategy, NHS and public services shows Labour is putting people back at the heart of British economy, committing to giving the many a wage rise. This manifesto show working people are definitely better off with Labour. Bring on June 8.”

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “There are clear dividing lines for who to vote for in this election. Labour will invest in firefighters in order to keep people safe, whereas the Tories will continue to cut and decimate our service, putting public safety at risk.

“Having 3,000 more firefighters on the frontline is a promising start, and we welcome their commitment to review staffing levels across the service as a whole.

“Fire deaths have risen for the first time in 20 years since the Tories came to power, and response times to emergencies are getting slower. The service is in crisis and the Tories don’t have a plan to save it. Labour are the safe pair of hands who will deliver a properly resourced fire service to protect public safety.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “What Labour is doing today is what Labour does best – offering real change for the many in this country. Labour will invest in our people and build a Britain that we can all be proud of.

“For those who want to see our children given a chance, to see that work really pays, that our elderly and vulnerable are no longer degraded by government policy, then the answer is to vote Labour.

“For too long, working people have been at the sharp end of Conservative cuts and disastrous economic mismanagement – and they will be again if that party takes power on 8 June. The reality of Conservative rule is that for those not protected by power and wealth, life gets tougher.

“In every aspect of life – from an affordable home to a safe NHS, from a decent education for all our kids to a living wage and a decent job – the story of the Tory party is that our communities suffer. The Labour party will put a halt to this. Under Labour, working people and their communities will stand tall again.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Labour has produced a manifesto that delivers for public services. Ending the pay cap will make a huge difference for hard-pressed public sector employees. Proper investment in the NHS and social care will have a huge impact on patients and staff too.

“When the other parties unveil their manifestos later this week, they would do well to take a leaf out of Labour’s book – and stand up for public services and those who work in them.”

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “Labour’s manifesto is one that would practically change millions of lives. From social care, to housing, to Sure Start and our NHS – it’s a manifesto that makes sense for working people.

“It’s a manifesto about fairness and about helping real people to get by and get on in life. It’s not paying lip service to the issues people face, it’s taking them head on. The country is crying out for change. This is a manifesto that can deliver it. People need to get out there and vote for it.”

Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “Universal Credit will plunge far more working families into poverty, which will be almost impossible to work their way out of. We supported the initial intentions of Universal Credit, to simplify benefits and improve incentives to work.  However, severe cost cutting has turned Universal Credit into a real threat to the incomes of low-paid working families,

“Although we won the argument on the proposed massive cuts to tax credits, forcing a u-turn from the Government; those cuts are still being applied to Universal Credit and will hit millions of working families over the next 3 years. This is a ticking time bomb that will leave many working families thousands of pounds worse-off when they are transferred onto Universal Credit.

“We are looking to a Labour Government to restore the original purpose of Universal Credit, to encourage entry to and progression in work. The low work allowance and high clawback of net earnings are particular disincentives to work. There needs to be a fresh look at what Universal Credit means in practice for low and middle income earners and get this troubled project back on track to support not penalise working families.

“Whilst the Prime Minister has talked about supporting families struggling to make ends meet, only Labour has the policies to provide crucial support to help make working family incomes meet the cost of living.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is an impressive set of pledges from the Labour Party. Their commitments to improve workers’ rights and drive up wages would make a real difference to millions of workers.

“There’s clearly a growing political consensus to address issues affecting working people. Decent jobs and fair pay must top of the list for the new government.

“Nobody voted for Brexit to lose their hard-won protections at work. That is why Labour is right to protect existing rights at work, and pledge to at least match future EU rights. British workers shouldn’t miss out on rights enjoyed by other European workers.

“With one in ten workers now in insecure jobs, it’s good to see a real attempt to improve workplace rights. Banning zero-hours contracts would give nearly a million workers the certainty and security they deserve. And abolishing employment tribunal fees would make it easier for people to defend their rights at work.

“Labour rightly recognises that Britain still needs a pay rise. Wages still haven’t recovered from the financial crash, and far too many working people struggle to pay the bills.

“Increasing the minimum wage, and expanding collective bargaining coverage, are proven and effective ways to drive up stagnating pay.

“And ending artificial pay restrictions in the public sector will stop the real pay cuts for public servants after seven long years. Hard-working nurses shouldn’t be forced to turn to food banks.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Labour’s commitment to British state ownership of our rail,  power and water, ‎as opposed to the foreign state-backed exploitation of our essential services supported by the Tories, shows that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is clearly fighting to protect our national interests.

“Labour’s manifesto recognises the dangers of Driver Only Operation and commits to safe and accessible railways for all.  The manifesto represents a massive boost for public transport after more than two decades of Tory privatisation and RMT welcomes this departure from the failed, profiteering model that has dragged Britain into the slow lane.”