Category Archives: Blog

Red Book: The commercialisation of public services

A foreword by Shibley – This, I believe, is a beautiful piece of writing by @GrahameMorris, MP for Easington. I not only believe that the economic arguments are cogent, accurate and compelling, but I also feel that it sets out the case accurately for this major flaw in policy which the Conservatives and Labour have been pursuing now for decades. I reproduce it below entirely in keeping with the original source ‘The Red Book’.

Foreword to the Red Book:

This book has been produced by Labour Left -a Labour Party campaign grouping within the UK Labour Party. For any queries please email the chief editor DrEoinClarke@LabourLeft.co.uk. The book is free of charge and can be reproduced without permission. Each author retains sole responsibility for their work, and full intellectual property rights accordingly. You can find out more about Labour Left by visiting www.LabourLeft.co.uk.

Link: here.

Grahame Morris MP is the Chairperson of Labour Left as well as the Labour MP for Easington, an area blighted by the Tory misgovernment of the 1980s. Having spent his early career in the NHS, Grahame began working with John Cummings, MP, in 1987 and has served as a Labour Member of Easington District Council for fifteen years. Grahame is a member of the Health Select Committee, and he writes for the Morning Star on matters related to the NHS. Grahame’s passion lies in narrowing the health inequality gaps brought about by the unequal society in which we live.

The Left should Champion Dynamic Responsive Public Services

We need a dynamic, responsive, publicly funded and publicly provided model for the UK‟s public services. We must be bold and reclaim our public services for the sake of our people, our economy and our country.

The recent trend in delivering public services in the UK has seen a move away from the large centrally driven publicly provided service model which characterised the welfare state in the immediate post-war period. Across the public sector we have seen the introduction of competition as well as large sections of services passed over to the private sector. The drive behind this commercialisation has been from right wing critics of the old-style monolithic services who believed that it would be impossible to achieve improved outcomes, greater efficiencies and a consumer focus without such significant reform.

The desire of governments to reform key public services and extend the commercialisation agenda as they seek further efficiencies has entered a new phase under this Coalition. While New Labour brought competition into the NHS, the Coalition is seeking to break it up and remove any distinction between public and private providers of health services. The Health and Social Care Bill will turn the NHS into little more than an insurance fund. There were those in the Labour Party who warned that the split between commissioners and providers, the introduction of competition, commercial practices and the incorporation of the private sector into public service delivery would risk opening the floodgates to further ideological change in the future. While Margaret Thatcher would have struggled to pass current Tory-led reforms to the NHS back in the 1980s, once the private sector had a foot in the door and the public service ideology was broken down under a Labour government, these policies became a Trojan horse for privatisation.

At the last election, all three main political parties seem to have lost faith in the ability of public service workers to improve public services from within. “Reform” itself had become almost entirely associated with further marketisation, the extension of competition or a greater role for the private sector at the heart of our public services. The ideological drive behind reform of this nature has also deepened. The extension of commercial practices into public services is now pursued regardless of the impact o  assessment of how its implementation will affect the costs, accessibility or quality of service delivery. The government‟s own impact assessment of the Health and Social Care Bill suggested that “the majority of quantifiable [financial] distortions work in favour of NHS organisations‟, i.e. NHS providers have a lower cost base than the private sector even before taking into account the latter‟s need to make a profit.

The evidence suggests that the contracting out of public services to the private sector has a poor record. There is often a negative impact for employees with the prevalence of short-term contacts and the increasing use of employment agencies. UNISON commissioned a report on the rise of the multi billion pound Private Public Services Industry raising significant concerns about the increased dependency on private firms. Public services have become a huge industry from which the private sector receives more than £80 billion of taxpayers’ money every year. Yet private sector delivery of services has become characterised by increased cost, deteriorating quality, the loss of accountability and greater risk of service failure. The Southern Cross Care Homes debacle has brought just these sorts of issues to the fore once again.

More and more services are being transferred to the private sector, leading to a situation where there is a danger that we lose control over our public services altogether. In 2007 the Local Government Association warned that because of the amount of local authority spending on external private sector contracts, the ability to make efficiency savings without damaging services was not realistic. It should be even more evident at a time of financial restraint how important it is that we retain control over our public services. The central argument in favour of the increased commercialisation and privatisation of public services rests on the importance of consumer choice as a driver of increased efficiency, accountability and value for money. Yet there are serious limitations to the idea of the “well-informed consumer‟ as examples show.

While there were many faults with the nationalised rail services provided by British Rail, privatisation has not resulted in increased efficiency or competitive ticket pricing. On the contrary, disruptions to rail services remain, commuters suffer from chronic overcrowding on rush hour trains and prices have increased dramatically year-on-year. In fact, privatisation has not resulted in increased choice for consumers at all: in the case of the railways it is not possible to make a choice about which rail company to use. High fares and poor conditions have to be accepted. This is not a “free market‟. It is the result of the State granting a licence to specific companies to make money through market domination. We must be very wary indeed of allowing this situation to develop in the provision of healthcare and other welfare services.

One area which it is argued does feature genuine consumer choice is the provision of utilities. In most parts of the United Kingdom, it is possible to choose a provider of gas and electricity from a handful of companies. Yet here too prices have increased above inflation and the profits of the energy companies have soared, to the extent that during the autumn of 2011, Labour Leader Ed Miliband looked to hold the „big six‟ energy companies to account for their excessive price increases. Of course, energy companies claim that they are only reflecting the vagaries of the international markets in coal, oil and gas. However, their increased profits and continued price increases suggest that not only have they made no attempt to insulate people from any increased costs but that they are making money rather than working in the best interests of their customers. The reason is that the energy companies are well aware that the idea of the well informed consumer is largely a myth. People are often confused by the proliferation of similar sounding deals or are reluctant to get involved in changing supplier.

Similarly, people are traditionally very reluctant to change the bank which provides their current account, even when there are tangible financial benefits from doing so. That is why banks create incentives to those who do switch their current accounts. It is also why there are so many attractive add-ons to opening a student account. Banks know full well that once a person has opened an account with a bank as a student, they will most likely use the same bank for the rest of their life.

There are very few people indeed, irrespective of income or education, who sit down every month, work out which energy company or bank account offers best value, and, crucially, act by changing their utility provider or switching their current account. And even if they want to do so, there are usually financial tie-ins and penalties for leaving their existing deal. It seems that the “big six‟ energy companies know these things, hence the steep increase in fuel bills and their reluctance (as evidenced by their increase in profits) to insulate their customers from the increase in the market prices of fuels. It is worth remembering that left politicians at the end of the nineteenth century argued for municipalisation on the grounds of efficiency, in that it enabled councils to run utilities at a lower cost to ratepayers and to avoid the wastefulness and high costs incurred through the use of private companies. There are certain services which it seems natural for the state to provide – no one would seriously suggest replacing police forces with private security firms – and the increasing consumerisation of public services not only undermines our welfare state, but also the health of our economy and society.

Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek did not advocate a “small state‟, as many commentators on both the right and the left have mistakenly argued. On the contrary, they saw the state as vital for securing private property, protecting the market and incentivising trade. They recognised that for a nation to succeed economically it was not simply a matter of low taxation and regulation. They did not believe the simplistic argument that capital and human resources simply move from an area of high taxation to one of low taxation, as though through osmosis – but rather that security and infrastructure needed to be provided and the only institution able to provide this was the state.

As a nation, we cannot expect to attract leading industries without leading excellent state education. We cannot expect to have a motivated, healthy and happy workforce without comprehensive welfare provision; and we cannot expect our innovators and entrepreneurs to take risks with borrowed capital if their main concern is whether they can afford treatment should they be ill. Given that the vast majority of start-up companies fail within the first twelve months, and given that many small businessmen and women build up large amounts of debts while starting up businesses, they are less likely to take these risks if they are liable for ruinous healthcare or welfare payments should they be ill, pregnant, or unable to work.

Essentially, if we are to have a vibrant and vital economy which can attract the most innovative industries and keep the brightest people in the United Kingdom, we need robust public services. There are certain areas which benefit from consumerisation – the welfare state is not one of them. For the health of our people, our economy and our society we need to keep it in the public sphere. The welfare state has a proud history and has embedded itself into the British psyche. The NHS has perhaps been one of the most robust drivers behind the welfare state with its guiding principles and values which are supported wholeheartedly by the public at large. We do not need to protect the welfare state merely for ideological reasons, nor do we need to resist the consumerisation of the NHS and other public services simply out of a suspicion of change and a desire to protect the status quo. Indeed, the last Labour Government sought to use the private sector in the NHS to increase capacity, for instance in reducing waiting times for cataract and hip operations. However, once the distinction between our public services and the private sector was blurred by the centre-left it was clear that this would be abused once those on the political right took power. While this government denies its motives are to privatise NHS services, there is growing evidence that NHS providers and social enterprises are continuing to lose out to commercial companies for major NHS contracts.

Private healthcare firms have on numerous occasions beaten social enterprise projects even where these projects reinvest profits into the local community. The direction of travel that of this government, forcing new commissioning groups and hospitals to operate in the private sector, is certain to lead to much more of this privatisation of our NHS services. Aneurin Bevan argued that abuse in the health service occurred when the incompatible principles of private acquisitiveness and public service were married together. This is true throughout the welfare state. The scale of the privatisation in public services receives little or no attention in the media and often goes unnoticed apart from by those that it directly affects – such as the cleaner or cook that loses their job. Yet around 20-30% of government spending on public services goes to the private sector – almost a third. It is not that we should simply oppose any money going to the private sector from the public purse. What should be opposed is the direction of travel and rapid growth of the private sector within public services. The benefits of good public services are clear for all to see. They should be characterised by:

  • Reliable employment practices;
  • Greater democratic control over service delivery; and
  • Greater accountability.

However the most basic benefit of public services should always be the ability to deliver an effective service for better value for money than private competitors. We must set out an agenda which puts confidence back into public services and the public sector workforce and which can fashion change and improvements from within. There have been clear failures in the state-owned public services model which must be addressed if those of us who support this model are to win the arguments over future reform. Slow moving monolithic bureaucracies at local and national level need to become more responsive and we must recognise that the move towards the private sector was in part inspired by the refusal of some services to adapt and change. Trade unions and staff associations must become part of the solution to improving services – indeed there are examples where unions have worked with local authorities to redesign services for the benefit of staff and services users, such as in my own area, in commercial vehicle maintenance and refuse collection. As we look to thefuture, we must consider today how we will respond to creeping privatisation and outline a clear plan to reclaim our public services. There are many powerful, pragmatic arguments for robust public services. Any attempt to undermine the social provision of these services is a grave mistake – for our economy, for our society and for our country. We on the left should be bold and we should not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the falseness of the „choice‟ argument. Nor should we be taken in by the neo-liberal consensus of recent years that reform of public services must inevitably lead to commercialisation. A dynamic, responsive, publically funded and provided model can deliver services more efficiently and with greater accountability than the private sector.

 

Tyne Tees Digital Switchover – Are you ready?

Five years ago television history was made in Whitehaven, Cumbria when the first analogue signal for BBC2 was switched off – starting the UK’s Digital Switch.

The Tyne Tees/North East region is the last region in England to go through the switchover process and every household in the region should have received a guide to switchover which will explain what will happen at each stage of the switchover and how to retune all Freeview, BT Vision and TopUpTV equipment when the new higher strength services start up in September.

The North East digital switchover will be completed in two stages. Stage one takes place on September 12 which will see analogue BBC Two close and the first group of Freeview digital channels become available for the first time to thousands of homes watching local ‘relay’ transmitters in digital blackspots such as Sunderland, Whitby, Morpeth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

At stage two on September 26, the other analogue channels – BBC One, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – will be switched off forever and replaced with additional TV, radio and text services.

The two-stage process gives people the chance to check their equipment. Every viewer with Freeview, BT Vision or Top Up TV will need to re-tune their digital TV or box at each switchover stage.

More than 97 per cent of viewers in the North East are already watching digital television services on at least their main television set and may think that switchover doesn’t affect them.    Those who are just watching satellite or cable services are correct in thinking that they won’t have to do anything – but all Freeview, BT Vision and TopUp TV equipment will need to be retuned at or after both stages of the switchover on 12 and 26 September.

Switchover Help Scheme

The Help Scheme is run by the BBC and can help everyone who is eligible disabled, aged 75 or over, registered blind or partially sighted or anyone who has lived in a care home for 6 months or more with everything they need to switch one TV to digital.

The standard option is available for an all-inclusive cost of £40. This help is free if you or someone you care for is eligible and also gets certain income-related benefits.

You can also check if you or someone you know is eligible by using the online eligibility checker.

If you are not sure if you are eligible for help, call free on 0800 40 85 900 or e-mail info@helpscheme.co.uk

Digital TV Switchover

More information about Digital Switch can be found online at http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/

The best values of the North East

This week many young people across the region will be celebrating their A Level results. A Levels are the result of years of hard work and self discipline, with students learning an important lesson that by putting something in, you can get something worthwhile in return.

I don’t envy the task facing young people today, especially in the North East, as they set about pursuing their aspirations. It certainly is tough out there and they have my utmost respect and encouragement.

In a world where the pursuit of celebrity and instant gratification is sold by the media as somehow worthwhile and easily obtainable, A-levels require a long-sighted viewpoint, a commitment to hard work and the personal strength to pursue future goals a long way off.

Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the Director and Writer of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, declared their joy at seeing the magic they had dreamed of brought to life after years of hard work, by a cast of volunteers in front of a global audience. They steered clear of celebrating celebrity and opted instead to cast light on the people and achievements too often overlooked by society as a whole.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, our country’s greatest engineer, was instrumental in bringing about the modern industrial era through designing bridges, tunnels and docks that transformed the nation. The National Health Service, established under the guidance of the great Labour politician Aneurin Bevan, also took a starring role. Such strong role models are important for young people and counter the media focus on celebrity culture that so often sends the wrong message to children and adolescents.

Many people locally will also have known the late David Guy, a great friend of mine and a great working class hero. His service to the mining communities in our area benefited thousands of people locally. In an industry where young people often started work aged as young as 15 years, often in just 36 inch coal seams, for instance at Dawdon Colliery, David became a champion of workers’ rights. He was born to mining family in Seaham and spent his entire life working for others. His solidarity stretched from his local communities to supporting struggles by the Liverpool Dockers in the 1990s to today’s Spanish Miners striking in defence of their jobs.

The Great Miners Strike of 1984/85 was where David demonstrated his utter commitment to his comrades and union members. The great example he set throughout his life should be a lesson to all young people, as well as aspiring trade union and Labour leaders. His legacy will include re-establishing the Durham Miners Gala as the premier political and trade union demonstration in the county.

Those young people celebrating their hard work this week need every encouragement to carry on their hard work in whatever direction they so choose.

 

 

 

Osbornomics Discredited: Time for a Plan B for Jobs & Growth

This week we heard the news that the UK economy shrank by 0.7% in the last quarter extinguishing any hope of a quick recovery from the latest downturn. The extent of the contraction shocked even the most pessimistic and is clear evidence of a deepening of the double-dip recession created in Downing Street. Construction has been, not surprisingly, one of the hardest hit sectors with representative groups in the North East warning of a possible 5,000 further job losses in the next 12 months unless the government takes decisive action.

When the Coalition assumed office back in 2010 it moved quickly to slam on the brakes for a number of large scale building projects including key infrastructure developments across the North East. Nearby, the much needed replacement Seaham School of Technology is still waiting to be given the go-ahead. The planned new hospital at Wynyard was also cancelled over two years ago. Cuts to capital budgets across government and cancellation of large public infrastructure projects has further depressed our economy. We are now feeling the devastating effects of what happens when government stands aside when it should be acting in the national interest.

We know that the North East is always far more vulnerable than elsewhere in the UK as its’ recovery and economic regeneration under the last Labour government was only in its early stages. Our area has seen some of the highest job losses from the public sector, an unrealised private sector-led recovery and increasing unemployment even when employment might have risen nationally and in other regions.

For ordinary people and their families, in employment or not, the implication of these figures is serious. Without a change of direction at the top of government demand will remain depressed, the labour market can only weaken, unemployment rise with the prospect of job creation become pie in the sky. Academics looking at East Durham describe some of our communities as unemployment ‘hotspots’. This is because unemployment concentrates in areas with little or no economic activity. Until there is government intervention in order to stimulate economic activity in these areas, there can be little prospect of job creation.

The government’s inaction and austerity agenda has failed and this should be the final nail in the coffin. It has depressed demand in the economy, taken money from the least well off and most likely to spend,  in order to hand it to the wealthiest, and most likely to hoard. After two years while our economy has contracted, the prospects for economic recovery look worse than ever. Ministers often boast about maintaining record low interest rates and yet refuse to rise to the challenge of spending on public investment, which these low rates make a practical proposition, and which the worsening double-dip recession now makes an urgent necessity.

Re-Dedication of Seaham War Memorial

 

Speaking at the Re-Dedication of Seaham War Memorial on Sunday Easington MP Grahame Morris said the Military Covenant is a Debt of Honour Owed by the Nation to our Armed Forces Personnel

 “I am honoured to be given the opportunity to close the Re-dedication of Seaham War Memorial Service, and to commemorate and celebrate the commitment and dedication of our Armed Forces Community.

 I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Corps of Drums from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, for providing the Drumhead Service for the re-dedication of the Seaham War Memorial.

 I would also like to thank the community of Seaham, without whom, the restoration of the War Memorial would not have happened. We would not have been here today if it was not for the efforts, commitment and donations of organisations and community groups including:-

Durham Miners Association

Seaham School of Technology

Seaham Town Council,

Royal British Legion

And The Remember Them Fund,

I would also like to thank Colour Sgt Dave McKenna (retired), for inviting the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and to thank the volunteers involved in arranging the family fun day which follows and leading today’s service.

The War Memorial has been transformed and restored back to its former glory, resembling its original 1920’s designs. However, this is not the end, and I hope the restoration of the memorial will continue with the addition of lighting and fencing, making it the focal point that it rightly deserves to be in our community.

We owe our service personnel not only a great debt of gratitude but a debt of honour for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis to maintain peace and security in the UK. It is vital that when they return home we properly support our veterans and their families.

The Military Covenant can be traced all the way back to the reign of Henry VIII – it is a contract between the military and society whereby soldiers who risk their lives in the service in our armed forces should be guaranteed fair treatment, support and respect when they return home – and that no-one should suffer disadvantage as a result of their Service.

The Military Covenant is now enshrined in law; however, these values are not yet a reality for all. It is totally unacceptable that our Armed Forces community continue to face discrimination.

Despite their service, Armed Forces personnel continue to face problems when they return home. Frequent changes of address due to the nature of service means service personnel have problems accessing mortgages, loans, or credits cards and one in five have had trouble getting a mobile phone contact – everyday activities that most of us take for granted.

Worst still one in five service personnel have experienced abuse, attempts of violence, or have been refused service in hotels, pubs or elsewhere while in uniform.

This is unacceptable – we need to end discrimination against our service personnel, and if necessary legislate to protect the Service community from such attacks

Last week’s Armed Forces Day gave the nation the opportunity to celebrate the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community – from serving troops and their families, to veterans and cadets – as well as raising public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve.

This year’s Armed Force Day was particularly poignant being 30 years since the liberation of the Falkland Islands reminding of the sacrifice made in 1982.   

I hope Seaham will be at the forefront of the North East’s future Armed Forces Day celebrations.

I know how proud Seaham is of our Service Personnel with our proud and historic link to the Armed Forces. The North East remains one of the largest military recruitment areas, and I am delighted we have so many current and former service personnel here today.

The War Memorial recognises the service and sacrifice the Seaham community has made to protecting our country through their service at home and abroad. It signifies the unbreakable bond between the nation and the people who serve in our armed forces – it is a reflection of our solidarity.”

Cameron’s Health Lottery

Last month Labour launched the “NHS Check” website (www.yournhs.com).  NHS Check allows those who are concerned about what’s happening to get in touch with us and tell us what they’re seeing across the NHS, in hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries, revelling the damage done to front-line services by the Government free-market, free-for-all in the health service.

Along with your firsthand experiences the Labour Shadow Health team will use FOIs and surveys to produce a monthly report exposing the gap between Ministerial rhetoric and the reality on the ground in the NHS.

You can take a look at the first edition of Labour’s NHS Check Report in full here

NHS Check #1 – Cameron’s Health Lottery.

Cameron’s Health Lottery looks at the rationing of treatment across the NHS. Recently over a thousand people have come together and used the NHS Check website to share their experience of the NHS frontline. We used the information shared to survey all parts of the health service and the results show the NHS restricting access to 125 different treatments since the Coalition Government came to power. Ministers are leaving patients with the agonising choice of paying for private treatment or going without.

We have uncovered new evidence of:

–        Restrictions linked to arbitrary caps and cost

–        Restrictions diverge from NICE guidelines

–        Restrictions on a number of serious treatments including cataracts, knee surgery and hip replacements

We have identified 125 separate treatments that have been restricted or stopped altogether by at least one PCT in England.

Detailed findings on the treatments being restricted and the nature of the restrictions can be found in the NHS Check report.

Labour is calling for the Government to order an immediate review of rationing in the NHS and to produce clear guidance on all of the treatments now being affected.

Cameron’s Health Lottery NHS Check report is available in full here, and you can share your NHS experiences at YourNHS.com

 

 

 

 

Labour is with you on the NHS. We would put patients first; back the real reforms needed to improve the NHS and use the money David Cameron is wasting on his damaging NHS reorganisation to protect 6000 nursing jobs.

 Locally, Labour will act as the last line of defence to protect the NHS. Strong Labour Councils will be champions for patients and defenders of NHS values – we are pledging to fight the worst effects of David Cameron’s damaging Health and Social Care Act.

 Labour’s pledges to protect NHS

 

1.      Protect NHS founding values.

Click for more

2.      Prevent postcode lotteries

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3.      Guard against longer waits

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4.      Promote collaboration over competition

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5.      Put patients before profits

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Armed Forces Day 2012

The fourth annual Armed Forces Day will be held on Saturday, 30 June

Armed Forces Day is an opportunity to do two things. Firstly, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Secondly, it gives the nation an opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets.

Across the country people are getting involved: communities hold local events and business show their support.

In advance of Armed Forces Day the Labour Party have launched the ‘End Discrimination Against Our Forces’ campaign.

Whilst opinion polls suggest that 95% of the British public respect the Armed Forces, abuse and discrimination of our service men and women continues to exist.

More than one in five members of the Forces said they had experienced strangers shouting abuse at them while wearing their uniform in public in the UK in the last five years. Nearly one in twenty said they had experienced violence or attempted violence, and 18% have been refused service in hotels, pubs or elsewhere. Armed Forces Personnel continue to experience problems in everyday life with more than a quarter having been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card in the last five years, and nearly one in five had had trouble getting a mobile phone contract as regular changes of address counted against them in credit checks.

Greater legal protections for the Armed Forces and their families must be examined as we seek to end abuse of the service community. The Labour Party are calling for urgent cross party talks to end discrimination against our Armed Forces to ensure no one should suffer as a result of their service.

You can show your support by joining the campaign – http://www.labour.org.uk/forces

For more information about Armed Forces Day can be found at www.armedforcesday.org.uk

 

Britain should be playing a leading role in helping green the world

 

 

Later this month politicians, campaigners and business leaders from around the world will gather in Brazil to discuss the green economy and sustainable development. The Rio plus 20 Summit will be the biggest global gathering on sustainable development since the first Earth Summit in Rio twenty years ago.  We need development that is environmental, socially and economically sustainable. The original Rio declaration in 1992 set out important goals to eradicate poverty, reduce unsustainable production and to protect the world’s ecosystems. But the 20 years since Rio have seen the challenges posed by climate change, and over-exploitation of natural resources remain, and in many cases, get worse.

With Britain in recession and the economy flat-lining some will ask why sustainable development is being discussed at all.  But in these tough times, it is important that our government takes a leading role in helping shape the new green economy and the world around us. Rising energy prices, higher food bills and changing weather patterns are all inter-linked. If the wheat crop fails in Russia, bread prices rise in the UK.  That is why the British government should be playing a leading role in helping shape the future of our planet.

Before Ministers jet off to Rio, however, they should remember that sustainable development starts at home. And here they have some tough questions to answer. The UK must diversify its economy at home to drive green growth by investing in clean energy and lead the way in green technology and recycling waste.  The Government claims it is ambitious for change, however with the forest sell-off and a stalemate on carbon reporting, indifference to growing food and rural poverty at home, this ambition has not been matched by domestic action. We need an ambitious government that wants to lead the world on sustainable development, eradicating poverty and creating the green jobs and industries of the future.  Instead we have a Government that is out of touch with anyone who cares about sustainable development.

Despite this, there is an appetite for change. The last Labour government passed the landmark Climate Change Act setting a target to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The growth in fair trade products available on supermarket shelves, and the number of local churches and faith groups campaigning for environmental justice as a key plank of social justice, area a sign that change is possible. Last year, over 600,000 people signed the petition against the Government’s plans to sell-off our public forests. We have a long legacy of supporting international development and campaigning to protect our natural environment. The government should seize the opportunity to help create sustainable jobs and growth in low carbon and environmental industries. Yet we have a Tory-led Government ideologically wedded to a failed economic approach and a Chancellor that sees the environment as a barrier to growth.

Rio+20 represents a real chance to chart a path to a safer, greener fairer economy, particularly for the world’s poorest. The government is ignoring the voice of businesses who want regulatory certainty and is bowing to the Treasury’s anti-environment, anti-regulatory rhetoric.  The Government has said that Rio+20 has to be a workshop not a talking shop.  To have credibility, it isn’t enough to talk the talk on the world stage; they have to walk the walk, back home.

 

 

Carers Week 2012 – “In Sickness and In Health”

                

Fiona Phillips, Former GMTV presenter and Carers Week Ambassador

Carers Weeks is an annual awareness campaign which recognises and celebrates the contribution made by the UK’s 6.4 million unpaid carers to the people they care for and their communities.

Carers Week 2012 is being held between June 18-24, the event recognises the contribution made by carers in East Durham and throughout the UK who provide unpaid care for someone who is ill, frail or disabled.

This year, the theme is “in sickness and in health” – recognising the pressures people often face when caring for a loved one, at the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. We know that when carers go unsupported they can often suffer from ill health, poverty and social isolation.

Caring is exceptionally demanding, and it is important carers know they are not alone – even when they are shouldering a greater burden as a result of recent service cuts. It is important to use carers week to reach out to new or “hidden” carers, to those who say “I’m just being a husband, a wife, a dad, a son, a daughter, a friend or a good neighbour

Caring is likely to touch everyone at some point in their lives. It is anticipated that the number of carers in the UK is likely to rise to 9 million by 2037 and every day another 6,000 people take on caring responsibilities.

According to research carried out by the Carers Week campaign group this year, 47% of unpaid carers said they were made ill by money worries and 45% said caring had pushed them into debt. While 625,000 people suffer mental and physical ill health as a direct consequence of the stress and physical demands of caring.

Carers save the UK economy over £119 billion per year; with the decision to care for someone often resulting in poverty. The demands of caring results in one in five carers being forced to give up work, affecting their income and future employment opportunities.

Despite the overwhelming contribution carers make to the economy, the main carer’s benefit is just £55.55 for a minimum of 35 hours. This equates to just £1.58 per hour, far short of the national minimum wage. However, caring is not a nine to five job, and 1.25 million people provide in excess of 50 hours care per week, and for many caring is 24/7.

In the North East over a quarter of a million people are carers. Funding and budget pressures have contributed to the restructuring of care services in East Durham. In the run up to Carers Week 2012 I met with Easington District Carers Support. They support over 1000 registered carers in Easington offering 1 to 1 support with carer support workers. They arrange activities and events to support carers and reduce social isolation, such as the Happy Mondays group which offers valuable respite for registered carers every Monday between 9am and noon. 

They are an important lifeline for local families supporting people caring for loved ones.

Volunteering is part of the Social Fabric of East Durham

  

Volunteering can deliver social and economic change – but it still requires investment if those benefits are to be realised.

This week was the official volunteers’ week in Britain celebrating the enormous work that unpaid workers do when they volunteer to help a person, special cause or group of people. In our area, East Durham Trust is the flagship voluntary and community sector organisation that helps to maintain the necessary infrastructure to support all types of volunteering in our area.

I therefore used this week to visit the Trust to gain a greater perspective of the work they do. Any community groups in the East Durham area can join the East Durham Trust for free and gain specialist advice on anything from funding, procurement, accommodation and community engagement. Most importantly, the Trust’s overall primary purpose is to promote the regeneration of our rural and urban areas suffering the effects of social and economic decline.

Each year volunteers across the UK donate the equivalent of over £40 billion of their time to their local communities with more than 20 million people working over 100 million hours unpaid. This dedication is to be welcomed, however more importantly these organisations and individuals also need to be supported if they are to continue to thrive.

People typically choose to play a part in community activities if they are truly voluntary, small-scale, friendly and self-fulfilling. Whereas the vision of the ‘Big Society’ is something quite different: supporting civil society in ways that are less voluntary in nature, formalised and complicated by the role of other elements such as private business and public services.

There is also a real danger that volunteers find themselves taking over where public sector staff have been made redundant, raising the issue of ‘job substitution’. Additionally, voluntary groups are collectively losing over £3 billion in Government funding between now and 2016 at a time when they are already struggling to maintain provision. A major concern must be that as this Tory-led Coalition cuts services in the most-deprived areas, it will undermine the work underway in the voluntary sector as their task simply becomes too tough.

Pushing ahead with the vague agenda of the ‘Big Society’, alongside public spending cuts which will shrink the ability of the state to provide key services is certain to undermine the free spirit of civil society and people’s ability to volunteer. However, it should not undermine the will and determination of those people who dedicate a great deal of time and energy to help others. Surveys consistently show that people that volunteer know many more people and consider their communities better places to live. I hope many more people across Peterlee and East Durham, if they consider that they are able, will be inspired to volunteer.