Sunday 25 August 2019

Brexit-obsessed Britain is no country for more and more old men living in severe poverty

The recently published report, 'Pension Reforms and Old Age Inequalities in Europe' has revealed that the proportion of men and women people living in severe poverty in Britain is five times what it was in 1986 and the largest increase among western European countries,.

Its author, Professor Bernhard Ebbinghaus, of the University of Oxford said that the rise, from 0.9% of the elderly population to around 5%, is attributable to Britain’s state pension system and its low basic payments and means-tested supplements. He told a European Sociological Association Conference that Britain is one of five countries out of 16 that he has studied where there has been an increase in people aged 65 and over who are living in “severe poverty”, which is defined as having an income of 40% or less of the median average.

As the graph shows in the mid-1980s about 1% of those aged 65 and over in Britain were living in severe poverty, putting it equal-lowest in poverty rates of 16 western European countries. In France it was 12% and in Germany 6%. However, by 2008, the proportion had risen to 6%, making Britain fourth-equal highest with Switzerland, Ireland and Spain standing higher. Over the following eight years, the proportion dipped slightly but remained at just under 5%.

Professor Ebbinghaus said Britain compared unfavourably with many other countries : “The lowest poverty rates among older people are found in the relatively generous Dutch basic pensions and Nordic welfare states, while the UK, but also Ireland and Switzerland, with basic old-age security, had the highest poverty rates.”

Why do a larger proportion of old people live in poverty in Britain than in Germany for example ? For the answer you have to go back to the social welfare reforms initiated by the economist and social reformer, William Beveridge and the Labour Government in the 20th century after the Second World War and the reforms in Germany initiated by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 19th century.

The Professor said that Britain "is a good example of the Beveridge-lite systems that have historically failed to combat old-age poverty. These have rather ungenerous basic pensions with means-tested supplements and this reproduces relatively high severe poverty rates among the elderly. British basic pensions are particularly low, 16% of average earnings, and require a long contribution period. Income-tested or means-tested targeted benefits are needed to supplement basic pensions and to lift them out of severe poverty – every sixth British pensioner receives such additional benefits.”

He contrasted the British system, with its flat-rate basic pension, with the “Bismarckian” system used in Germany and several other European countries, where mandatory pension contributions are based on earnings. “A comparative analysis of poverty rates in old age reveals that Beveridge basic security is not always capable of effectively reducing poverty despite the explicit purpose of doing so, while some contributory Bismarckian systems are better suited to reducing poverty, despite focusing on status maintenance.” 

Whatever the reasons, Brexit-obsessed Britain in 2019 is no country for those 5 old people in every 100 who are living in severe poverty.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Brexit Britain is country where an old film director called Mike Leigh invokes the democratic spirit of Peterloo to fight 'the forces of deceit'

The 76 year old film director Mike Leigh had an article published in the Guardian today :

It was an impassioned piece in which he ended with the plea : 'Brexit is the epitome of democracy under threat – indeed, of democracy gone wrong. To end this awful impasse we must have another referendum, one that is not afflicted with the lies and spin of 2016 – the People’s Vote. The spirit of Peterloo must endure.'

Mike wrote and then directed his historical film drama 'Peterloo' in 2018,  He based on events on 16 August 1819, when a crowd of some 60,000 people from Manchester and surrounding towns gathered in St Peter’s Fields to demand Parliamentary reform and an extension of voting rights.

The meeting had been peaceful, but in the attempt to arrest a leader of the meeting, the mounted yeomany, armed with sabres, panicked and charged the crowd and as a result as many as 15 people were killed and up to 700 wounded. In parody of the Battle of Waterloo which had taken place five years before, the the killings were given the name 'The Peterloo Massacre.'

The immediate after effect of the Massacre was a crackdown on reform, as the authorities feared the country was heading towards armed rebellion. The outcry led to the founding of the Manchester Guardian and played a significant role in the passage through Parliament of the Great Reform Act thirteen years later.

Mike referred to his attendance at the bicentenial of the Massacre in Manchester last Friday. 
'Monday 16 August 1819 was a beautiful summer’s day, when at least 60,000 people came in their Sunday best to St Peter’s Field in Manchester for the peaceful demonstration that turned so tragically into the bloody Peterloo Massacre. On 16 August 2019, by contrast, there was a relentless downpour of the worst Mancunian variety. But the spirit of 200 years ago was not the least bit dampened by the torrential rain.'

'In our complex world of lies and fake news and sinister manipulation, democracy is under threat on so many levels. And the radicals and reformers of two centuries ago have much to teach us – the lessons of Peterloo go far beyond the issue of universal suffrage. As John Thacker Saxton, a real-life radical played by John-Paul Hurley in my film, says :
“Though we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

'Nellie, the poor mother in my film played by Maxine Peake, referring to the Corn Laws, asks, “When has the government ever done anything to help us?” She would be astonished at the cost of living now that drives so many to despair, by the five-week wait for universal credit, by the likely rise in food bills of £190 per annum per person because of Brexit, by zero-hours contracts, and by a health minister who refuses to rule out deaths caused by lack of medicine if the UK leaves the EU with no deal.'

'Nearly 4,000 people silently meditating in the pouring rain is a deeply moving experience. So many thoughts, feelings, ideas, memories, hopes, fears, all in those few precious minutes.'

'The Midland Hotel, right in front of us, was built on the site of the house from which the misguided magistrates watched the meeting, before so stupidly instructing their forces to attack. Suddenly, I felt a rare sense of connection to those events on this very spot.' 
'We were so close, too, to the spot where Henry “Orator” Hunt and the others stood on the hustings – two horse carts – by what is now the Radisson Hotel, but was in my youth the Free Trade Hall concert venue.' 

Mike asked : 'What if the folk at Peterloo, who were fighting for the vote, could time-travel to 2019? Would they not be appalled and disgusted by the fact that we have the vote, yet so many people don’t use it? Would they not be astonished at the deceit of Brexit? At how working-class people still starve two centuries after the iniquitous Corn Laws? That last year there were 1.6 million recipients of emergency food parcels in the UK, half of the contents going to children?'

'These thoughts and feelings, and many more, raced through my head and heart as I stood, wet and silent, with many kindred spirits.'

Friday 16 August 2019

Britain is a country with a nation called Scotland where poor boys grow up to live short, unhealthy lives as old men

According to data published by the 'National Records of Scotland', poor boys in Scotland, living in one of its most deprived areas, will live 13 years less than rich boys, in wealthy areas, when they are old men.

So good luck to you poor boys born in Glasgow City, because in Britain in 2019,  you are likely to have a significantly shorter life than your wealthier counterpart in East Renfrewshire.

Not only are the figures a stark reminder that deprivation has a significant effect on life expectancy, but an even greater one on 'healthy life expectancy' and when it comes to that for poor boys, as opposed to rich boys when they are old men, the difference  is 22.5 years.

Registrar General for Scotland, Paul Lowe, said : “This year’s review shows that there have been changes in Scotland’s life expectancy and mortality trends. Life expectancy in Scotland has been increasing over the long term, but recent estimates indicate that it has stopped improving. The largest causes of the stall in life expectancy are the slowing of improvements seen in the reduction of deaths from heart disease and increases in drug related deaths.”

The Head of Public Health at National Health Service  Scotland, Gerry McCartney said the stalling of life expectancy improvements in Scotland was a real concern :  “The circumstances in which we live should not impact on health so much that the right to live a long and healthy life is compromised by how much money we have."

Sunday 11 August 2019

Brexit 'Britain' is a country which is, in the mind of its old Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, facing an existential crisis

The Collins English Dictionary defines 'Great Britain' as the island consisting of England, Scotland, and Wales, which together with Northern Ireland makes up the United Kingdom. Gordon Brown, who was born in Giffnock, Renfrewshire, Scotland and is 68 years old, has served the United Kingdom as its Chancellor of the Exchequer for 10 years from 1997 to 2007 and Prime Minister for 3 years from 2007 to 2010.

Gordon has experience and gravitas and although his Premiership was not a success, his finest moment came when he could, in effect, go back to being Chancellor during the Financial Crisis which convulsed the world in 2007 - 2008, when, in fact, he could be Chancellor of the World. Colleagues and civil servants who were otherwise in despair with him were dazzled by his response to the financial crisis which involved a £500 billion bail out to British banks and led to subsequently, broadly similar measures to be introduced by the United States and the European Union in response to the Financial Crisis.

If his actions in 2008 earned him the epithet : 'The Man who Saved the World' he now seems determined to do his best to earn the epithet : 'The Man who Saved the Union of the United Kingdom' which he thinks is threatened by the prospect of a No Deal Brexit from the European Union. He has said that he fears for the future of the Union and the growing nationalism which is pulling the United Kingdom apart, driving it towards an unprecedented  economic calamity and unleashing the most serious constitutional crisis since the 17th century when King was pitted against Parliament in the prelude to the English Civil War.

Writing in the Observer he accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of deploying a 'destructive, populist, nationalist ideology' and said that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are 'devoid of a unifying purpose' capable of holding together amid the threat of crashing out of the EU.

His comments come amid mounting fears that a no-deal Brexit would hasten the end of Scotland’s membership of the United Kingdom and attendant retention of membership of the EU. Three-fifths of Scottish voters (60%), believe that support for Scottish independence would increase after a no-deal Brexit, according to new Focaldata polling for the anti-racist 'Hope Not Hate' campaign. Most, that is 57%, of  Conservative Party supporters said they regarded the end of the union as a price worth paying to achieve Brexit. 

Gordon accused Prime Minister Johnson of turning the Conservative and Unionist Party into the 'Conservative and Brexit party'. In his view 'Unionism appears to be sleepwalking into oblivion and the United Kingdom – once admired around the world for an understated but comfortably unifying Britishness that was inclusive, outward-looking, tolerant and ultimately pragmatic – now presents an ugly picture : of bitter division, intolerance and introversion so extreme that it has sacrificed common sense in favour of a dogmatic abandonment of its own best interests.'

Saturday 10 August 2019

Brexit Britain is a country where old ladies like Hazel Jones are caught with chalk and in the act of writing protests on public walls and fences

Hazel Jones, who is 71, lives in Wakefield, Yorkshire and for the past three years since the EU Referendum has been making her own small protests against the prospect of Britain leaving the European Union. Then on August 2 when was spotted by a Ms Petts writing 'Brexit is based on lies. Reject it' on the perimeter wall of a school playing field and seen pocketing the chalk before striding off with her walking stick. When Ms Petts posted her video of Hazel on Facebook it was seen by one of Hazel's children who alerted her to its existence.

Since then she has confessed that she was the smartly dressed pensioner who was the culprit behind anti-Brexit slogans that have been written in chalk across the walls and fences of the West Yorkshire town and has said : "I was a little later than usual — that was my mistake" and : “Had I known I was being filmed I would have dressed up a bit more.”

She has also : “We all have to do our bit and I think it’s very important that people are made aware of the imminent catastrophe that we will be faced with if Brexit goes through. My generation has fouled up the prospects of younger people, so it’s my grandchildren that I’m doing it for.”

Hazel would have had an uphill battle of winning the people of Wakefield to her cause : in the Referendum 66.3% of them voted opted to leave the European Union, compared to 33.6% who, like her voted to stay in.

The Grandmother of four, said that she had spent the past three years chalking hundreds of protest slogans around the town while out and about. A lifelong of the Labour Party she said that she now voted for the Liberal Democrats because of the Party’s commitment to a second referendum.

Always using chalk she said that she did not see herself as a graffiti vandal because the messages washed off in the rain and added that she always used walls and fences in public spaces and steered clear of writing her anti-Brexit commentary on houses. “I usually tend to get up early and write when I’m on my way into town or going to the shops.” 

Now Hazel's chalking days are over. “I suppose the game is up now, I can’t keep on doing it any more.” She said that she now planned to adopt a more orthodox form of protest by petitioning her Member of Parliament. “My children are worried there may be reprisals but it really never occurred to me that it was an offence. It’s just chalk after all."

"If the government chooses to deliberately impose on its own population food shortages, job losses and disruption of medical supplies, they really need not fear old ladies pointing this out.”

Caught on video :

and reported in France :

Friday 2 August 2019

Brexit obsessed Britain is a country and no country for old men living in unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy housing

Earlier this summer a Government report by a cross-party group of MPs entitled : Inquiry into decent and accessible homes for older people' created hardly a stir in a Britain because the whole of the political machine and attendant political energy is devoted to the sole issue of Brexit.

It revealed that in 2019, in Britain, more than 2 million old men and women are still suffering from poor physical and mental ill health and even death as a consequence of living in substandard and non-accessible homes. In addition, this substandard housing costs the cash-strapped National Health Service £1.4bn every year because  cold, damp and other hazards cause old people to fall and exacerbate conditions such as heart disease, strokes, respiratory illnesses and arthritis as well as contributing to poor mental health.

Rachael Maskell MP and Chair of the group said : “Many older people are living in unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation with little hope of being able to move somewhere better or improve their homes. Unless we work to find tangible solutions, older people and some of the most vulnerable in society will continue to live in substandard and unsuitable accommodation, the implications of which could be devastating to their physical, mental and social wellbeing.”

The report was produced after an in-depth inquiry over the last year into the link between health and housing, home ownership, supported housing, and the private rented sector and it predicted that the number of old men and women renting in the private sector often in unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation would soar in the coming years. Currently households comprising people aged over 65 account for less than 10% of all those living in the private rented sector, but their numbers are reportedly rising fast and a recent survey by the National Landlords Association found that the numbers of retired people in Britain moving into the private rented sector had increased by 200,000 over the last four years.

Lady Jolly, a Liberal Democrat peer, said : “There are increasing numbers of older people living in the private rented sector who are struggling with rising rents, insecure tenancies and a lack of social or supported housing to move into. We have to consider whether this sector can be suitable for all older private tenants, especially those with low incomes developing care and support needs. We urgently need to reform security of tenure for all private tenants as this will play a key role in improving conditions and accessibility for growing numbers of older people living in privately rented homes.” 

The report recommended a 'National Housing Strategy' to help to improve housing standards for this and future generations of old people. Lady Greengross, a cross-bench peer said : “Many older people are living in unsafe and unhealthy accommodation, and have little hope of being able to move somewhere better. To tackle this, more older people should have the option of living in sheltered or supported housing. Unless we work on sustainable solutions, vulnerable older people will continue to live in substandard accommodation, the implications of which could be devastating to their physical, mental and social wellbeing.”

Andrew Selous MP, a member of the Health and Social Care Committee, said :
“Everyone should be able to live in a decent, healthy, accessible and adaptable home that allows them to receive the right health and care services at home. It is important that we improve the conditions of our current housing stock so that it works for the older people living in them.”

List of organisations, groups and individuals who gave their time and provided information to the Inquiry : 

* Age UK
* Anchor Hanover
* PPG for Healthy Homes and Buildings
* APPG for Housing and Care for Older People
* APPG for Housing in the North
* Associated Retirement Community
* Operators (ARCO)
* Bristol City Council’s Private Housing and Accessible Homes Team
* Building Research Establishment
* Care and Repair England
* Centre for Ageing Better
* Chameleon Technology
* Chartered Institute of Environmental Health
* Chartered Institute of Housing
* Clive Betts MP
* Elderly Accommodation Council
* EROSH Foundations
* Generation Rent
* Housing LIN
* Ian Mearns MP
* Independent Age
* Jim Cunningham MP
* Karbon Homes
* Karen Buck MP
* Kirklees Council
* Local Government Association
* Lord Best
* Melanie Onn MP
* Ms. Maggie Ellis
* National Landlords Association
* Northern Housing Consortium
* Older People’s Housing Champions Network
* Professor Christine Whitehead
* Residential Landlord Association
* Retirement Home Builders Group
* Royal College of Occupational Therapists
* Shelter
* The Almshouse Association
* The Printing Charity
* UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence
* Versus Arthrits

The chances of any reform being enacted in the interest of old people either living in or, in the future, avoiding living in substandard accommodation in Brexit obsessed Britain : ZERO