Category Archives: Economics

Climate change: the people of Sheffield understand we need system change and reduced inequality

I very much enjoyed last week hearing a report of the preliminary findings of the INTERSECTION University of Sheffield Faculty of Social Sciences research programme, on which I was invited to respond.

It surveyed people on their views on climate change, particularly as related to intergenerational justice, is Sheffield, and also in cities in Uganda and China.

This session focused on the Sheffield results. Respondents, in my view rightly, did not blame older generations for climate change, pointing out that the science was not clear enough, or sufficiently promulgated, for people to have known the impact of their actions. They said that governments and industry were chiefly responsible for sustainable practices. “Some blame pliticians and business leaders for policy failure, corruption and lack of foresight.”

The researchers indicated disappointment that, beyond recycling, most people were not explicitly changing their personal behaviour to tackle climate change. We didn’t have an analysis of the respondents’ socio-economic status, but assuming it was broadly representative, that’s not unreasonable.

Most people get, at least on an instinctive level, that they through small personal action aren’t going to make a significant difference.

In there is the understanding that we need transformational system change to tackle climate change.

There was indeed a hint that the need for system change was evident to respondents. When asked who they blamed for climate change “the rich” came high on the list – at sixty three per cent, and respondents also thought that the rich would be among those most impacted.

There’s an understanding the reasons why economic and environmental justice are inextricably linked – those who will have to most cut their consumption are those consuming the most, broadly the rich.

It was good to hear strong support for the plastic bag charge and microbead ban.  There was strong desire for similar measures – good news for proposals for a charge on disposable coffee cups.

In the international work, it was interesting to hear how theatre in Uganda was helping to spread the word about the damage done by deforestation and promoting alternative more climate-friendly fuels – a reminder of the importance of the arts in social change. (Yes the arts that our government is consistently downgrading in our education system.

In the small group discussion after the presentations, we discussed how fear makes people consume, and how empowered people are less likely to consume. So much of our current consumption is a product of insecurity and fear.

Image from the Visual Minutes record of the Global Greens Congress in Liverpool last week.

Longterm failure to invest has left the North’s rail infrastructure in a parlous state

The Yorkshire Posts’s interview with Chris Grayling, “I absolutely understand the need for Yorkshire transport investment” could not have been more apt, published on the day the Thinktank IPPR North published a report demonstrating that more than half of UK spending on transport networks is in London.

Current planned London spending is £1,943/person. In Yorkshire and Humber that figure is £190.

This is not just a question of “what is being built at the time”, as Mr Grayling claimed. It is long term under-investment that’s left our rail system in a parlous state, with, as the author of this report points out, it taking longer to get from Liverpool to Hull than it does from London to Paris.

And the slashing of rural and local bus services has left many people unable to travel at all, or forced on to congested, polluted roads when public transport would be a better option.

HS2 is only going to worsen the situation, focusing money, people and resources even more on London.

What’s needed is to abandon that expensive white elephant and make a coherent, cohesive, full plan for travel in Northern England, then invest to deliver it.

That’s something that needs to be done in the North. We know we can’t trust London, either to get it right, or to deliver the cash.

People power in action – Santander backs down under Renters Rising pressure

Yesterday I joined the Sheffield group of Renters Rising, on what was to have been a protest march.

Instead, it was a celebration.

The object of the event was the giant multinational bank Santander, which it had been found had a clause in its “buy to rent” mortgages saying that borrowers had to maximise the rent they were attracting for the property as a condition of the loan. That’s the bank doing its utmost to push already unaffordable rents even higher.

The plan was to have protests focused on Santander around the nation to highlight this.

But a couple of days after this was announced, Santander backed down, saying they would remove the clause from future mortgages.

So we enjoyed a celebration – and a reminder of the possibilities of people power!

(It was a demonstration that placards can take many forms, including cardboard box “houses”…)

Pregnancy discrimination – twice as bad as a decade ago

To Westminster today for the launch of an excellent campaign by Maternity Action, highlighting the issue of pregnancy discrimination, which recent research has shown is twice as bad as it was a decade ago.

The Women and Equalities Committee completed an inquiry into maternity discrimination in August of last year.  The Government’s response is now 11 weeks overdue.

The group was launching three videos featuring women in low-income jobs talking about how they overcame discrimination and won their rights – a really important message.

Letter in the Guardian: Pay Ratios

As sent. Published on January 12

Madam,

Your leading article “The Guardian view on Corbyn and pay: close that gap” was entirely right to say that “pay for those running FTSE companies is too high” and you were right to welcome the proposal floating by Jeremy Corbyn to set a ratio of top to lowest pay.

There’s nothing novel about this proposal.
This has been Green Party policy for many years – although we’re calling for a ratio of 10:1, not 20:1.
There’s a growing civil society movement calling for companies to publish their pay ratios, as provided for in the US Dodd-Frank legislation.
Historically and globally, it is the extremely large ratios found in America and the UK now that are anomalous, not attempts to restrict them.
Countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Japan have ratios an order of magnitude lower than the UK’s, and in the 1960s a ratio of 20:1 was the norm.

Another fare rise in our failed, privatised rail system

Another chilly January morning, another protest against further rises to what are already the most expensive rail fares in Europe.

From 7am yesterday morning I joined members of Sheffield Green Party at the station to sympathise with travellers, many of whom were facing the rise on their first day back at work after the festive break. Greens across Yorkshire (and the country were doing likewise – travelllers reported to us they’d seen Greens in Leeds, Rotherham and Barnsley.

We were criticising the rise, but more than that, focusing on the failed structure of our privatised rail services, and encouraging people to sign this petition calling for rail to be brought back into public hands, to be run for the benefit of passengers, not shareholders.

This video explains more:

And here’s how our action was covered in the Sheffield Star.

Sheffield Needs a Payrise: Taking the message to the high street

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the rally today at the start of the Sheffield Needs a Payrise march, a campaign that’s calling for a minimum £10/hour wage for all workers in Sheffield and beyond (particularly apt since South Yorkshire is the fifth poorest region in Northern Europe). There was a great turnout of around 300, excellent on a busy, cold day just before Christmas.

We heard many examples of the difficulties workers face as a result of low pay and zero-hours contract. An Usdaw representative said she’d just been trying to help a member with six jobs, who needed to use a food bank to get by.

Gareth Lane from the bakers’ union spoke of the difficulties faced by laid-paid workers in McDonalds, citing particularly one young father left rarely seeing his children by computer-allocated shifts that took no account of his family responsibilities.
I spoke about the great radical political tradition of Sheffield, and how it was again politically leading the country with this campaign. Our economy, that’s increasingly dominated by low-paying, tax-dodging multinational companies that are parasites, isn’t doing what an economy is supposed to do, which is to provide for our needs, one of which is stable, secure, decent-paying jobs – jobs that you can build a life on.