Friday 30 August 2013

Coalition needs to address growing inequality in UK

In my column in this week’s Cornish Guardian, I have addressed the growing inequality in UK society. It is as follows:

One Coalition MP recently wrote about the manner in which central government makes its political decisions, commenting on the “back-room deals” and the “dark arts of the whips.”

He said he yearned for a return to “genuine evidence-based policy-making,” while admitting that this “was something which ministers claim to do but rarely achieve.” According to the MP, ministers prefer civil servants to come up “with a case” to justify whatever position the minister wishes to promote.

As a local councillor, I have often seen how the very same statistics can be used by different individuals to argue opposing standpoints – often with more thought given to the argument than the actual evidence itself.

I make these points because there are a number of independent reports which show that inequality is increasing throughout the United Kingdom. And that is regardless of the crass claims by David Cameron, George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and others that, in this age of austerity, “we are all in it together.”

The Resolution Foundation recently reported that the gap between the wealthiest in society and everyone else is widening. The top 1% of earners (the super-rich) share one tenth of national income – significantly up from the 1990s. By comparison, the poorest 50% have to collectively make do with 18% of national income.

The UN’s 2013 Human Development Report has also noted that the “gap between rich and poor in UK society has risen sharply” since the Coalition government took power. The UN reports that there is greater inequality in the UK than in other countries in Western Europe.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has meanwhile used its annual report to warn about the growing income gap between “full-time employees” and those individuals in “part-time, insecure and low-wage jobs.”

And a study by Loughborough University for the Child Poverty Action Group, has reported that more than 18,000 children in Cornwall are living in poverty.

It seems to me that if the Coalition did practice genuine evidence-based policy-making, it would prioritise tackling the growing inequality in the United Kingdom by reversing their austerity policies which are impacting most on the less-well-off.

Time to axe the "bedroom tax"

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian covered the Coalition’s “bedroom tax.” It was as follows:

It will soon be 150 days since the Coalition implemented its “bedroom tax” and any logical justification for the controversial move is fast unravelling.

Put simply, working-age tenants in council / housing association properties – who have a spare bedroom and claim housing benefit – will have had their benefit reduced by 14 per cent. Tenants with two spare bedrooms have had their housing benefit cut by 25 per cent.

The Conservative-led Government continues to claim that their “under-occupancy penalty” will “encourage” families living in larger properties to move elsewhere, allowing better use to be made of social housing and to reduce the housing benefit bill.

But the reality is that the “bedroom tax” is a nonsensical shambles and it is penalising some of the UK’s poorest families.

It is well documented that there has been a massive increase in tenants going into rent arrears since April, specifically because of the changes, and the Independent newspaper has shown that, for 96% of affected tenants, smaller properties in the local social housing stock are not available.

And ridiculously, those families forced out of social housing and into smaller properties in the private sector will undoubtedly end up paying higher rents which will actually increase the amount of housing benefit being paid!

A large number of horror stories are also starting to emerge.

These include reports that one 53 year-old grandmother, with significant health problems, committed suicide because of the stress caused by the “bedroom tax.” And that another man who relies on a kidney dialysis machine – which is stored in a second bedroom in his small flat – has been told he will lose £60 a month in benefits.

I am reassured that opposition to the “bedroom tax” is growing and even some Coalition MPs are belatedly coming to the conclusion that it is unjust.

One Cornish MP is right to have condemned the policy as “absurd.” And I find myself wholeheartedly in agreement with the Scottish socialist who has colourfully stated that we cannot trust the “millionaire toffs” in the government to devise social housing policy.

He is correct to point out that the “cruel and economically illiterate bedroom tax” shows that the Government is out of touch and does not understand what is happening in the lives of many of the less-well-off.

Monday 19 August 2013

The “march of the incinerators”

Sunday’s Observer newspaper has featured how the “march of the incinerators' threatens drive to recycle more rubbish” and how the “rise in the number of plants burning waste may be a disincentive to
greener methods of disposal.”

It has also commented on how the rush to build incinerators to burn waste is “threatening the country's commitment to increase its recycling rates” and that “the UK is in danger of building far more incineration capacity than it needs.”

These arguments are very similar to those being made by local campaigners against the over-sized incinerator being planned for the China Clay Area in mid Cornwall.

Other key extracts from the article are as follows:

Experts said the use of incinerators had consequences for recycling as local authorities were forced to divert waste to feed the plants. "The choice to invest in thermal treatment can hold back recycling efforts," Adam Baddeley, principal consultant at Eunomia, said. "At one level, the money invested in such plant simply isn't available to put into building recycling plants or collection infrastructure. And once you've built an incinerator or gasifier, there's a strong incentive to keep it fed with waste, even if that means keeping on collecting as 'black bag' rubbish, material that would be economically practicable to collect separately for recycling."

Charmian Larke, technical adviser for Cornwall Waste Forum, which unsuccessfully opposed a large incinerator in the south-west, questioned the planning process that resulted in incinerators being approved. "Some of them [planning officers] have spent their entire careers trying to get this incinerator so they are wedded to the idea," Larke said. "But if the council members understood how bad these contracts were, the officers would lose their jobs." Larke claimed that many of the incinerators were built in poorer areas. "There's a feeling that people who are downtrodden have a harder time getting their act together to object, and hence it's easier to place nasty things next to them."

"I have a dream"

My article in the most recent edition of the Cornish Guardian focuses on an important anniversary. It was as follows:

August marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Delivered from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, it is remembered as one of the most significant moments for the civil rights movement in 1950s/1960s America.

Dr King’s determination to oppose racial segregation and discrimination across certain states in the southern part of the United States of America – where many black people were even denied the vote – was truly courageous.

His words still ring out with real power and clarity, such as his statement that: “I have a dream that one day … the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

And his desire that parts of the US “sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

As well as his hope that his “four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The bravery of the men and women who stood up against such injustices should be remembered. Many even risked their lives during these troubled times and Dr King was himself felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, where he was to lead a demonstration of sanitation workers protesting against low wages and poor working conditions.

Dr King and colleagues greatly changed attitudes in the US and, as a consequence, throughout the wider world.

Barack Obama is the President of the United States – something that many in America in the 1960s would have considered impossible. But anyone who follows American news knows that there are still significant problems across the country, and the battle for a fairer, more inclusive and tolerant society continues.

But five decades on from the “I have a dream” speech, we should celebrate how individuals and communities can make a real difference and make the world a much better place.

Sunday 11 August 2013

A fantastic night at Queens Pit

I have just got back from watching Johnny Cowling and local music group Route 66 at Indian Queens Pit. We had around 400 people in the Pit – the biggest attendance for an event in many years. - and it was a fantastic night.

Johnny Cowling at the Pit

The box office

Some of the crowd


Friday 2 August 2013

Election reflections

It is always interesting how election results are reported and Plaid Cymru’s win in Ynys Mon, with 58% of the vote, is another example of skewed perspectives.

The BBC describes the win of Rhun ap Iorwerth as “emphatic.”

The Western Mail meanwhile stated: “Plaid candidate Rhun ap Iorwerth wins by a landslide in Anglesey by-election … Plaid Cymru have seen off closest rivals with more than three times as many votes as Welsh Labour … Mr ap Iorwerth’s victory was widely expected, but the scale of it is truly astonishing.”

But ... in The Guardian newspaper, the main headline was: “ Anglesey byelection sees Ukip threaten Labour and Tories.”

For the record, Plaid Cymru polled 58%, UKIP polled 14%.

Well done to Rhun ap Iorwerth and Plaid Cymru

Rhun ap Iorwerth was last night elected to the Welsh Assembly in Ynys Mon in spectacular fashion. He takes over from former Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, who recently stood down to lead the new Menai Science Park in the area.

Rhun ap Iorwerth secured 12,601 votes (58.2%), well ahead of Labour on 3,435 (15.8%) and UKIP on 3,099 (14.3%). The Conservatives came fourth with 1,843 (8.5%) – over 20 percentage points down on their performance in 2012. Socialist Labour came fifth with 348 (1.6%) while the Lib Dems finished last with 309 (1.4%).

Well done to everyone involved with the campaign. It is a truly fantastic result.

On a good night for Plaid Cymru, they also retained the Penyrheol seat on Caerphilly Council with over 50% of the vote and gained a seat on the community council in the same area.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Free "Cornish Nation"

Mebyon Kernow has just brought out its latest edition of “Cornish Nation” magazine, which is published three times a year. It is sent to all MK members three times a year, and a number of volunteers are in the process of distributing them to members.

This latest edition covers a range of topics including the recent local elections, a range of news items, Leanne Wood’s call for a “progressive alliance” and a tribute to MK’s former treasurer Graham Symmons, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

A free copy of “Cornish Nation” is available on request from, for non-members wishing to find out more about MK. If you would like a copy, please forward your contact details and specify whether you would like the magazine in either hard copy or as a pdf.

Wealth from Waste - the Local Government Association

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian revisits the issue of waste. It is as follows:

My views on waste management in Cornwall are well-known. For many years, I campaigned against the former County Council’s desire to build a massive incinerator in Clay Country.

And I remain disappointed that the leadership of the unitary authority chose to push ahead with this so-called “energy-from-waste” plant, and retain it at the very centre of its approach to dealing with Cornwall’s domestic waste.

Central government and the courts may have ruled that the incinerator should be built, the unitary authority may have re-signed a multi-million-pound “integrated waste management contract” with SITA, and the new road to the site may be nearing completion.

But I still maintain that the whole approach is unsustainable and I was very interested to read a wide-ranging new report from the influential Local Government Association (LGA) on the subject of waste.

Titled “Wealth from Waste,” it makes the case that a greater focus on recycling makes waste management more sustainable and saves money.

The LGA report shows that dealing with dry recycling generates an income of £36 per tonne, whereas the treatment of organic material through composting would cost £25-£44 per tonne. Incineration meanwhile costs £82 per tonne while landfill costs £93 per tonne.

Cornwall’s recycling rate for municipal waste is only 38% - just think what money could be saved if we could match the higher recycling rates, of 60%-plus, achieved in countries such as Austria and Germany.

The LGA report also demonstrates that recycling creates jobs. It states that: “The number of jobs in recycling can be anything from 59 and 112 per 10,000 tonnes of material processed, compared to 10 or 11 for landfill or energy from waste.”

In fact, the foreword says it all really: “The simple fact is that taxpayers would be better off, the economy will benefit, and more people will have jobs if we grow the domestic market for collecting, sorting and reprocessing recycling. Landfilling waste costs a lot of money; burning it is still expensive; recycling actually brings in cash for the taxpayer and we owe it to today’s hard-pressed taxpayers to get as much of their money back as possible.”

The big question for us in Cornwall must be: will the unitary authority have the courage and foresight to look again at its approach to Cornwall’s domestic waste?

BBC’s Any Questions

A few months ago, I was contacted by the BBC. I was delighted to receive an invitation to be a panellist on their Any Questions radio show – the first time that a Mebyon Kernow representative would appear on the show.

I was pencilled in for the recent debate (Friday 28th July) which took place at St Endellion.

Sadly for me, the BBC took a decision to adjust the guests on that particular show and I was told that I could not be fitted in. But I have been promised that I will be on the panel when the show is next in Cornwall, which could be in six-nine months.

I did listen to the debate – between Roy Hattersley, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, Philip Collins (who writes for the Times and previously wrote speeches for Tony Blair) and novelist Jessica Mann – and it was frustrating to be unable to comment on a range of topics close to my heart, such as housing, economic development, and ethical investment.

However, I will be doing the Friday evening politics slot on Radio Cornwall. I will be on about 5.40.