Wednesday, 20 May 2015

My Guilty Act - I Feed Foxes

I hate waste.  Last night I chucked some chicken that was past the sell-by date on the pack. I threw the straggly bits of translucent looking chicken breasts that I should have cooked three days ago onto a wasteland close to my home where the foxes roam at night looking for food. I would rather feed leftovers and food that has gone off to the foxes than to bin it.

I hate the inequality of food distribution between the Global North and the Global South and if I cannot feed those poor children in African then I am going to make sure that the food I waste goes into some living thing's mouth and an urban fox it is in my case. However, I must admit to some feeling of guilt and worry that a neighbour will one day come over and tell me off for encouraging the foxes. In fact, a few months ago I did have a conversation with a neighbour who looked at me in an accusatory way while talking about food being thrown onto the wasteland patch and the foxes being seen eating this food. I didn't own up, instead I bigged myself up in my own mind by consoling myself with the thought that the foxes had cubs that couldn't be left to starve. That would be inhuman.

Feeding foxes is one of those things that you don't talk to people about. Much like the 'Don't feed the pigeons' brigade the 'anti-urban fox' brigade can be just as strident. I have heard people talking about wanting to shoot foxes. Imagine my delight then when I opened my Guardian newspaper today and read an article written by a woman who feeds foxes. Even better, according to this article, Joanna Lumley does it too. If posh Joanna whose English rose looks and plummy accent can shoot a class warrior straight in the eye feeds foxes then I am in good company. Joanna, allegedly, even buys her foxes dog food. She doesn't just check 'em rotten food. Her urban foxes are even invited into her music room to listen to Mr Lumley play the piano.

While I wouldn't invite my foxes in to listen to my 80s playlist, I am not as cultured as the Lumleys, I am going to carry on feeding them safe in the knowledge that I am in good company. Lastly, only in a first world Western country would something as mundane as throwing your food to the foxes make the news. In third world countries people would probably eat the fox that dares to trample onto their land and it wouldn't make the news either.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Vicar in Manchester Challenges PM to Meet People Struggling on Benefits

Dear Prime Minister,
I don't know if you will ever read this, but I have some things I wish to say to you.
You have won the General Election and command a majority in the House of Commons, and as such will feel you have a legitimate mandate to govern. However, you must also know that you don't command a majority of the British people.
Although our political views are very much at odds on many issues, I'm willing to believe that you are a good man, as sure of your ideals as I am of mine, and believe your plan is what's best for us all. You said today that you will govern for the whole country and bring back together that which has clearly fractured. I hope you will.
But Prime Minister, though you can obviously see your party did not win the confidence of Scotland and huge swathes of the north of England, I'm not sure your party quite understands why. It's not because we're all 'loony-left' or extremists and nationalists, it's because so many of us are scared. Scared of what your policies will do to our communities and families. Scared of what will happen to our health service and our schools. Scared of losing our family homes for the sake of a few quid saving from the bedroom tax, or not being able to heat our home and have enough left to buy food.
I don't disagree with you that the best way out of poverty is to work, nor do I think that people should get something for nothing and expect the tax-payer to support people indefinitely if they are able to work. Who would think that that was ok and fair?
But your party's policies on these issues, couched in terms of reducing the deficit and balancing the books, don't seem to take into account the social and human cost of such actions. The country isn't a business, it's its people. All its people. And you are everyone's Prime Minister whether we voted for you or not.
You said today you will govern for everyone and unite the country. I hope you do. But to be able to do so you need to make it a priority in your first 100 days, to spend time in Scotland visiting people on zero hours contracts. Come to Manchester and talk with those who have been sanctioned for having a spare room, but have nowhere else to go. Go to Liverpool and meet people with disabled dependents who can't afford even one nanny, or to Newcastle and talk to people still living in poverty due to the demise of the coal industry. Spend a week or two living on the minimum wage, or volunteer in a food bank for a whole day.
Then Prime Minister you might begin to understand the cost of your policies from the other side, to see people as more than their net contribution to the economy, or as deliberate drains on the system. If you do that, then maybe you can heal some of the fractures in our society. Without this I just don't believe you can see just how crucial these issues are.
So please Prime Minister, leave Westminster for a few hours a week and truly strive to govern for all of us.
Rev'd Mike Walsh
The United Reformed Church

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Women's Policies in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto

Flexibility at work and fair pay
Ensure swift implementation of the new rules requiring companies with more than 250 employees to publish details of the different pay levels of men and women in their organisation. We will build on this platform and, by 2020, extend transparency requirements to include publishing the number of people paid less than the Living Wage and the ratio between top and median pay. We will also consult on requirements for companies to conduct and publish a full equality pay review, and to consult staff on executive pay.
Equal care for mental health
Transform care for pregnant women, new mothers and those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, and help them get the early care they need.  Revolutionise children’s mental health services. With the £250m a year announced in this year’s Budget we will implement the proposals outlined in the report of the Government’s Children’s Mental Health Taskforce. This means building better links with schools, ensuring all children develop mental resilience, and getting support and care quickly to those who are struggling. Our investment will help ensure children can access high-quality care closer to home.  Support a million more women who want to work with better childcare, help with caring responsibilities and action against discrimination
Equality and diversity
To advance the cause of women and gender equality we will: Set an ambitious goal to see a million more women in work by 2020 thanks to more jobs, better childcare, and better back-to work support. Challenge gender stereotyping and early sexualisation, working with schools to promote positive body image and widespread understanding of sexual consent law, and break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular academic subjects. Work to end the gender pay gap, including with new rules on gender pay transparency. Continue the drive for diversity in business leadership, maintaining momentum towards at least 30% of board members being women and encouraging gender diversity among senior managers, too. We will work to achieve gender equity in government programmes that support entrepreneurs.
Secure Communities
End FGM at home and abroad in a generation, teach sexual consent in our schools, and crack down on domestic violence
Tackling violence against women and girls
A fair society cannot tolerate today’s unacceptable level of violence against women and girls in Britain. We have made progress since 2010 but we will not rest until women feel safe and respected.
We will:
  • Ensure teachers, social workers, police officers and health workers in areas where there is high prevalence of female genital mutilation or forced marriage are trained to help those at risk.
  • Require the teaching of sexual consent in schools as part of age appropriate sex and relationships education.
  • Improve the provision of rape crisis centres and refuges for victims of domestic violence with a national network and national sources of funding.
  • Protect funding for tackling violence against women and girls and maintain the post of International Champion for preventing this violence.  
  •  Create a national helpline for victims of domestic and sexual violence – regardless of gender – to provide support, encourage reporting and secure more convictions.  
  • Work to ensure the whole criminal justice system updates practice in line with the Director of Public Prosecutions’ guidance on sexual consent.
Justice System
Create a Women’s Justice Board, modelled on the Youth Justice Board, to improve rehabilitation of female offenders.
Standing up for Liberal values
Prioritise support, protection and equal rights for women and girls, which is essential for effective, sustainable economic development. We will pursue an International Gender Equality Strategy, work to secure women’s rights to education and freedom from forced marriage; and aim to end female genital mutilation worldwide within a generation.

Policies on Women in the Conservative Manifesto

Jobs for all
we will make our economy more inclusive, by removing barriers that stop women and disabled people from participating in our workforce. To achieve this, we will back British businesses: cutting red tape, lowering taxes on jobs and enterprise, getting young people into work, boosting  apprenticeships and investing in science and technology.
A job is the best way to provide security for families
We now have more women-led businesses than ever before, more women in work than ever before and more women on FTSE 100 boards than ever before. We want to see full, genuine gender equality. The gender pay gap is the lowest on record, but we want to reduce it further and will push business to do so: we will require companies with more than 250 employees to publish the difference between the average pay of their male and female employees.  We also want to increase the proportion of public appointments going to women in the next Parliament, as well as the number of female MPs.
We will deliver a strong NHS through a strong economy
Building on our success in training thousands of nurses and midwives to become health visitors, we will ensure that women have access to mental health support during and after pregnancy, while strengthening the health visiting programme for new mothers.
We will boost sport in your community
We will lift the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25 per cent by 2017, and seek to increase participation in sport by women and girls.
We will prioritise tackling violence against women and girls
We have made protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence a key priority. We will now work with local authorities, the NHS and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure a secure future for specialist FGM and forced marriage units, refuges and rape crisis centres.
We will toughen sentencing and use new technology to protect the public
We will improve the treatment of women offenders, exploring how new technology may enable more women with young children to serve their sentence in the community.
We will stand up for British values
Our long-term security and prosperity depend on a stable international system that upholds our values. Over the last five years, we have stood up for what we believe in: intervening to stop a massacre in Libya, leading the world in tackling sexual violence in conflict, and helping women and children who have fled violence in Syria. We will continue this leadership. We will continue to lead efforts to tackle violence against women and girls, end FGM and combat early and forced marriage, both at home and abroad.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Women's Policies in the Labour Manifesto

The Labour Manifesto was launched today and I have picked out those policies which are significant to women's concerns in the UK. I am not offering an analysis because my job prohibits me from commenting publicly about party political issues. I am hoping that the launch of the political manifestos by all the parties this week (which I will also blog about) will add to a momentum that will encourage women to register to vote by 20 April,  if they haven't already done so, and to actually turn out to vote on 7 May.

The female vote is needed to collectively add up to a mass block of being an influential voice in British politics. 

Labour proposes the following women specific policies:

1. Tackling Crime  - According to Labour cuts to policing has resulted in a lower number of prosecutions in cases related to women such as rape, domestic violence and child abuse. Labour says it will protect frontline policing and tackle violence against women and girls by reforming the police governance system and by passing a 'Victims' Law' that will 'put victims at the heart of the justice system'.

Specifically, Labour will publish a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence, and provide central funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres; ban the use of community resolutions as a response to domestic violence, tighten the gun licensing regime so that people with a history of domestic or sexual violence will not be given an unrestricted license, make changes to DNA retention so that rape suspects have their DNA recorded and stored and will 'widen access' to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.

2. Work - According to Labour women, ethnic minorities and the disabled 'have been hit hardest' because 'progress on people's equalities is being rolled back'.

Labour proposes to tackle these issues by requiring large companies to publish their gender pay gap, increase the National Minimum Wage to more than £8 an hour by October 2019 and introduce Make Work Pay contracts to provide tax rebates to firms becoming Living Wage employers and will ban zero-hours contracts.

3 For Parents - Labour will extend free childcare from 15 to 25 hours for working parents of three and four-year-olds, ensure all primary schools guarantee access to wraparound childcare from 8am to 6pm, double paternity leave from two to four weeks and increase paternity pay by more than £100 a week.

4. For young people - Labour will guarantee an apprenticeship for every school leaver who attains the grades and require any firm that gets a large government contract to offer apprenticeships and Labour has pledged to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year from £9,000 a year.