Crime and Inequality By Kelly Grehan

The news that Sadiq Khan has launched a Violence Reduction Unit in London, based on a Glasgow model; which treats violent crime as a public health matter, is to be welcomed.

The growth in violence has plagued Khan’s Mayorship, with many blaming him for the rise in knife crime in London.

There have been 100 homicides in the capital so far this year. A third of the victims were aged 16 to 24, and three in five of the killings were stabbings.

Cuts to the Police Force have undoubtedly resulted in a rise in crime seems; there is another issue which we need to address if we are to have any hope of stopping violence:

Inequality.

Places with the most inequality are consistently the most violent – think of Nigeria, America and South Africa.  And to be clear, it is not the poorer societies which face the most violence, far from it.  It is those in which inequality is sewn into the very fabric of life.

Income inequality is significantly greater in London than elsewhere in England.

In the three years to 2015/2016, the income of someone just inside the top 10% was eight times higher than someone just inside the bottom 10% of earners earned more than the bottom 50%.

London, is a city which is now defined by inequality.  

50% of London’s wealth is owned by the richest 10% of its households. The bottom 50% own just over 5%. Over the last two years  the least wealthy 10% of people have lost  32% of their wealth compared to a 2% drop across Great Britain. Meanwhile, the wealth of the top 10% in London has increased by 25%.

London is such an overcrowded place that the disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is constantly rubbed in the faces of those struggling to make ends meet.

Experiences of being viewed as inferior often manifests itself in aggressive behavior.

Furthermore lack of opportunity leave feelings of powerless and a realisation that hard work will not lead to success.

Fear and hopelessness are major drivers of violence.   Inequality encourages social competition which can be settled with violence.

Now, those in favour of the status quo will talk about the power of the market and will find isolated incidences of someone poor who became a millionaire and will claim any efforts to curtail the rise in inequality are from people jealous of anyone who does well, or will ruin the economy.

But we are now all seeing the impact that inequality has on society as violence grows. Every day there is a news story about another stabbing or murder in London. And if we are to change this we need a clear and honest idea on the causes of it. We simply cannot afford to ignore it anymore.

Mandatory Reselection Aids Representation By Lily Madigan

For the uninitiated, mandatory reselection is the idea that Labour MPs should have to convince their local members to reselect them to run for parliament before every general election.

For some this is controversial but being an MP is an important role with a lot of responsibility and a big pay cheque to match. This shouldn’t be a factional issue, as it is so often framed, but a reflection of the very party these MPs claim to represent.

It is about meritocracy, democracy and the fundamental truth that we should have the best Labour members on our benches.

I hope I’m not alone in assuming these ‘best Labour members’ might just so happen to not be a group for the most part; comprised of old, white, cis straight men.

Young people are a perfect place to start.

Labour’s membership has surged since Corbyn became leader, bringing a new focus to the political power young people possess.

We are the activists on the ground doing door-to-door canvassing and leafleting, making a difference in marginal seats and university towns.

We saw ourselves represented in Labour’s 2017 manifesto that promised to abolish our tuition fees, fund our mental health services and create housing that we would have a hope of affording.

The political landscape has undoubtedly changed in our favour so why shouldn’t the makeup of our MPs?

The average age of an MP is 50, with only 14 (2%) aged 18–29, and the Labour Party having the most MPs over the age of 60.

It’s unsurprising just how badly we’ve had it politically when the reality is we are horribly outmatched. It’s essential the value we bring to our Party is recognised.

We will suffer most from the depredation capitalism has caused our environment.

It’s us who must endure the mistakes of the financial sector, rescued by mortgaging our future.

It’s the young who will live harder lives than our parents because of the neo-liberalism pedalled by the Tories and the last Labour government. We are disproportionately likely to be in unpaid internships, zero hours jobs, and when we can get a job we are paid less than older people for the same work.

We see a similar phenomena across other minority groups as well; women; those with disabilities; BAME and LGBT people, all suffer from a lack of representation in Parliament and would benefit from mandatory reselection.

The reality is the most secure seats will continue to be held by the same people unless something changes.

This lack of representation hinders the policies we create.

For example, a massive issue facing LGBT people is homelessness but without an adequate amount of LGBT people with voting privileges and a voice in Parliament, we receive inadequate consideration. This is worse at the intersections of groups, for example, disabled trans people suffer both from inadequate access to housing period, as well as a lack of accessible housing.

The reason we must fight so hard for tuition fees; affordable housing; decent jobs; and things like adequately funded mental health services, is because we are systematically underrepresented in the House of Commons.

Minority representation will transform British society, but we need to be on the benches and we need the chance to compete with other members for the limited number of seats within our party.

Mandatory reselection should be a priority for anyone passionate about increasing representation, not simply to meet a numbers game, but because with it the political priorities of this country will shift markedly in our favour — and ultimately, they will shift left.

The Long Summer Holiday And How We Fail Our Children By Kelly Grehan

The long summer holidays. The time children look forward to all year, the chance for family time, holidays, adventure, time with friends, visiting new places…

That’s the expectation anyway.

Sadly, the summer holidays are becoming a time of dread for many families as increasing numbers of people struggle to feed and find affordable childcare for their children.

As schools try their best to ensure income differences are not felt by school children throughout the year (with mixed successes) the holidays has become the great differentiator between children according to the wealth and circumstances of their parents.

As some families fly abroad for new experiences and relaxation, for others survival mode kicks in, with the six weeks something to endure rather than enjoy.

With free school meals guaranteeing that all infant school children and those deemed economically impoverished receive at least five cooked meals a week; the holidays sees the removal of the safety net for up to 3 million children.

This problem is recognised.

In fact an all-party parliamentary group on hunger found there was a “deeply troubling” impact on children who had gone hungry over the holidays and returned to class “malnourished, sluggish and dreary”. They received evidence that affected children “start the new term several weeks, if not months, intellectually behind their more fortunate peers who have enjoyed a more wholesome diet and lots of activity”.

This is further backed up by a 2016 survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers where teachers also reported a deterioration in the mental health of those children concerned.

The union blamed low wages and changes to benefits for the ‘unprecedented hunger’ they had witnessed in children.

Further evidence comes from a 2015 study based on a 580 low- and middle-income parents, which found that 62% of parents on less than £25,000 a year can not always afford food in holidays!

For parents with incomes of less than £15,000 the figure rises to 73%, while 41% of parents in low-income families had skipped meals during holidays so that their children could eat.

Very sadly 22% of parents said they had avoided having their children’s friends over and 17% hadn’t invited family to their house during the holidays due to a lack of money and food.

So this means the children are further disadvantaged in missing out on company and stimulation.

The problems do not cease with nutrition.

With increasing numbers of working parents living without nearby family support and without the means to afford childcare while they work, many are faced with a dilemma about where children should spend the day.

The NSPCC last week revealed an increased number of children left alone all day during the summer holidays.

The charity warns that although the law does not give a minimum age at which children can be left on their own, parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if they are put at risk of suffering an injury.

Imagine the predicament for a person, maybe struggling with the rent, to put food on the table and knowing that their job does not pay enough to cover these and childcare; or maybe receiving a call from a zero hours employer and having no options of where the children could spend the day.

Leaving a child alone may seem a risk which must be taken.

A child left alone, or in charge of younger siblings, possibly for days in the holidays is missing out on structure and security.

Even for those parents on average incomes the holidays are now a struggle.

The cost of activities once enjoyed for a reasonable rate such as the cinema have now become extortionate, rising expedentially to that of wages.

Holidays in the UK and abroad in school holidays can now be double of those in term time.

Libraries and Sure Start Centres which traditionally supplied free entertainment and activities are closing or withdrawing services.

The old first day back to school tradition of writing what you got up to in the holidays must be a dreaded and distressing experience for some children with it further emphasising their exclusion from parts of life enjoyed by their more fortunate classmates.

What strikes me if that, once again, is that there are a group of children – a significantly large group of children – who are being failed.

They are spending significant periods of their formative years hungry, alone, under stress – all things that are likely to impact negatively on their mental health, their school attainment and their self image.

Despite the rhetoric of this government this is not a poor country and we can do better by our children than this.

Individutopia – Joss Sheldon: A Review By Lisa Mulholland

Individutopia is a novel set in a neoliberal dystopia with Renee as the main character.

From the first page I knew I’d love this novel. I had a feeling that it would evoke emotion and re -awaken the radical in me.

And I was right because that is exactly what it did.

And it might just do the same for you;

Have you ever sat there and looked at what ‘society’ has become?

Ever wondered about the erosion of community?

Ever wondered how it all changed, where it all started?

Do you ever look around at people chained to their phones, not interacting with one another and think to yourself ‘where will this all end?’

I know I have. And if you have too, then this story is for you.

It creates a fictional future by combining features of the worst aspects of our present day with the building blocks of Thatchers vision of individualism and neoliberalism back in 1979.

With this, Joss Sheldon has created a neoliberal dystopian future.

It takes us on a journey that is so horribly unimaginable but scarily feels possible in some way.

It’s fiction. But it’s believable and it feels like a glimpse into the future.

When 1984 by George Orwell was released, I am pretty sure that most people at that time thought it was far fetched and could ‘never happen’. Yet here we are today with many features of the novel now part of our lives…. and then some!

I sympathised with the main character and the hopelessness of her situation. The way she is a slave to the system is portrayed so realistically.

While I lived through Renee’s plight, there were points where I felt compelled to shout “wake up and see what’s around you , break the mould, don’t be a slave to the system” but as I found myself willing Renee to do these things , I started to question myself too.

It struck a chord with me about living life to the fullest and I guarantee that if you read this it will with you too; because we are all Renee to some extent.

I did not want this story to end.

I grew attached to the main character. Her hopes, dreams and fears were easily identifiable.

It’s certainly thought provoking and it is one of those stories that will stay with me.

For me it was an epiphany in a book!

The book is on general release today. Read and enjoy this masterpiece and take a little bit of it away with you too.

Is this the modern day 1984? Read it and decide for yourself!

The Normalisation of Nastiness: Where Will It Lead? By Kelly Grehan

A few years ago it seemed the UK was well on the way to becoming a country where difference was celebrated (rather than tolerated).

If I think back to Summer 2012 posters for the Paralympics proclaimed disabled people as ‘superhumans,’ Mo Farah, a muslim who came to the UK as a child refugee, spoke movingly about how he is British.

A few months later the Equal Marriage Act was passed.

Today, the UK feels a very different place.  

Hate crime is on the rise;

Poverty among the disabled has increased;

Homelessness has risen by a shocking 168%;

Brexit has caused a division that does not appear easy to mend …

I could go on

But, in summary this country feels a much less kind place to be than it did just a few years ago.

A bizarre and frankly quite nasty culture has developed, masquerading as free speech in which the belittling of others is celebrated and a good way to get attention.

I could discuss a number of commentators continually wheeled out by the mainstream media to discuss topics they have no knowledge or expertise in purely because they will say something nasty – think former reality show contestant Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos.

But the best example of this is agitator-in-chief, Boris Johnson.  

Last week, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London wrote an article in which he said Burqas made the women who wore them look like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘postboxes.’

Supporters of Johnson claim that as the article was arguing against a burqa ban his other comments are acceptable.  But if Johnson wanted to write in defence of women to dress however they damn well like then he should have done just that.

But anyone who has had the misfortune to follow Johnson’s career knows he was not interested in the rights and wrongs of symbols of religion or dress choices but is only interested in the headlines he can generate.

He wrote those words in the full knowledge they would bring him what he craves most: attention.

He might play the bumbling idiot, but he knows exactly what he is doing, playing into the hands of dangerous people who hold deep seated hatred to anyone who is different to them.

He knew that his words would serve to legitimise the vile beliefs of far right groups who share them and that inevitably this would lead to an increase into the hostility felt by those wearing burqas and (as idiots often are unable to distinguish between them) over minority groups.

Now some may argue that women wearing burqas are oppressed. Let us just, for a second, assume that to be true (and I’m not for a second suggesting it is).  

In what way would calling people ‘bank robbers’ help empower them to fight back?

How would being compared to an inanimate object like a postbox make a person feel worthy enough to seek help?

It wouldn’t; more likely it will lead to further oppression, and of course, Johnson knew that too.

Boris Johnson is a man, who specialises in causing offence for offences sake.  

For example in 2004, in similar fashion to his current grab for the headlines he wrote an article in which he accused people from Liverpool of ‘wallowing in victim status’ and referring to the ‘more than 50 fans who died’ as ‘having fought their way into the ground’ at Hillsborough.

How crass to make such a claim without even having the decency to google the number of people who died before writing such rubbish, although I struggle to believe the number 96 is not known to him as it is to everyone else.

Like the burqa column, he wrote this knowing it would cause upset to people who had already suffered terribly, but carried on, knowing it would get him attention.

Is a man like this really fit to be a politician?

All of this feeds into a culture of nastiness. All of us are familiar with the phrase ‘political correctness.’ What does this actually mean?

As far as I can see it is a derogatory phrase rolled out for anyone wishing to act to make life easier for anyone from a minority group. Look at where those whose who use the phrase ‘political correctness’ and its bed fellow ‘political correctness gone mad.’

In my experience they never have a serious argument as to why whatever they deem ‘politically correct’ is wrong, just a desire to stop it, and to continue with their bigotry against one group or another.

I’m not arguing for a curtailing of free speech at all, I’m saying we need to stop giving a platform to people merely because they have something offensive to say, which is not based on fact when we know it legitimises the hatred others act upon.

We need to stop a culture where the best way for public figures to gain a platform is to say something nasty – let us not forget the hundreds of columns written by other politicians on any number of issues, which are well researched and are on very important matters – none generate the coverage of a column with something nasty in it.

Hatred breeds hatred.  We need to stop celebrating those who spread it.

Trans Women Are Real Women. Deny This If You Must, But Not In My Name. By Kelly Grehan

I’ve always been drawn to the statement by American mythologist Joseph Campbell that “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

Being yourself strikes me as the true route to happiness and something that we should all want for each other and to try to help others to achieve.

But others clearly disagree.  

In recent months there have been increasing reports that ‘radical feminists’ oppose trans women using women’s spaces, standing on all women shortlists and joining women’s groups.

As a feminist, this situation has left me fuming.  For me, being a feminist is about allowing all people to be who they want to be, to show kindness to all and to oppose all oppression.

I just cannot understand the motivation of those trying to stop trans women (and men) from being who they want to be.

One argument I have heard is that, having been raised as male , trans women have benefitted from male privilege and therefore cannot understand the experiences of cis women.  I find this a bizarre argument. I would guess being stuck in a body you despise all day every day pretty much cancels out any advantage you might have accessed as a male.

From what I have seen trans women suffer the absolute opposite of privilege at every stage of their life.

It is not on the same scale of course, but I have been shocked at the online abuse I have received every time I have tweeted support of trans rights.  Of course, as unpleasant as this was, I simply turned the device off and walked away.

I cannot imagine what it is like to face this abuse every day and have no means of escape.

Abuse against the trans community remains rife.

Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.

A study by equality campaigning charity Stonewall, last year revealed that amongst school pupils who identified as trans 9% had received death threats at school while 84% say they have self-harmed and 45% have tried to take their own lives.

Then there is the argument about who should use what toilet.

Frankly I envy people who have so little to worry about that this consumes their time.  I put this question to them, are they equally concerned that male and female disabled people are expected to share the same toilets?

It’s sad to say, but history tells us we should not be surprised by transphobia.  

People have always been afraid of things outside their own experience and rather than seeking further understanding the default position of many people seems to be to try to drive people of difference away.

We have seen this time and time again, whether the differences concern race, sexuality or even differences in choices like music or dress.

Despite great efforts to see it maligned, feminism is just as needed now as in the past – there are battles still to fight –  America have a misogynist president; we have yet to achieve equal pay; despite the ‘me too’ movement women continue to suffer sexual harassment; legislation concerning pregnancy, maternity and childcare continue to be inadequate.

So why would any feminist concern themselves with trying to exclude an already marginalised group?  It makes no sense to me.

And you know what defines everyone in the trans community?

They have had the courage, against all social convention, knowing the abuse and exclusion that is likely to follow, to stand up and be who they really are.

I’d say that’s the definition of courage. Such people are an asset, not a threat to the ideals of feminsim.

Feminism is not about telling other people who they are or who they can be.

At its core it is about aiding people to be themselves.

Experiencing feelings of transphobia?

Want to exclude others?

Then there is nothing I can do to stop you.

But please do not do it in the name of feminism!

Why I’ll Be Marching Against Donald Trump Today By Kelly Grehan

Edward Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In many respects that could be the strapline for the apathetic times we live in where ‘it doesn’t affect me, so I am not bothered’ seems to be the mantra of most people.

I remember the first time I heard someone say they were not signing a petition because the cause did not affect them.  It was about education cuts, affecting the university I attended and I had been explaining what was happening to a lady who had passed by.  She listened for about a minute and then said those fateful words ‘well it doesn’t really affect me’ and off she went.  Aged 19, and having been on the streets protesting at third world debt only weeks before, her words shocked me – not wanting to spare 10 seconds to sign a piece of paper unless it was something that directly impacted on her!

Of course, since then, as an active member of the community and as a political activist, I’ve learnt that apathy and ignorance are the greatest weapons that discrimination, oppression and unfairness have.

Apathy has allowed the government and the wealthy to portray immigrants as the cause of other people’s poverty – rather than low wages paid by multi-million profit corporations. The belief that public servants, rather than bankers greed caused the issues in the UK economy, that young people are some sort of feral generation and that England is the envy of the world; only allows the government to continue to get away with whatever cruel policy they wish to impose on the people.

People often remark that, had they been in nazi Germany they would not have stood by as their neighbours were dragged off to concentration camp.  But I think this is to ignore the nature of how injustice occurs: it does not begin with concentration camps.

Things chip away at the public consciousness – one idea at a time – the nazi’s started with the idea Jews held too many privileges compared to the rest of the German population and were to blame for the mass poverty that accompanied the end of the first world war.

People were only too pleased to blame someone else and gradually accepted more and more laws that stopped Jewish people owning property, owning telephones, sitting on benches and so on!

Drip, drip, drip until it led to gas chambers.

The idea this could not happen again or happen here is at odds with everything we see on a daily basis.

People have accepted a 169% rise in homelessness since 2010 with barely more than a shrug.

People hear that 17% of women’s refuges closed between 2010 and 2014 and council funding for refuges across England dropped from £31.2m in 2010/11 to just £23.9m in 2016/17, with 2 women being murdered by partners every week and do not give it a second thought.

Schools have faced cuts of 8%.

Are most people incensed by this? No.

Conversation in the UK continues to be dominated by outrage at the weather, bin collections and parking spaces.

Would anyone notice if the population were being systematically poisoned against a specific group?

Well I fear it has already happened.  The radio today was full of people welcoming Trump and applauding his anti-immigration rhetoric and expressing a belief that we should not ‘disownersnthe office of American President’ and should remember America was our ally in the Second World War.

Let’s remind ourselves that Trump is a misogynist, a racist, a man who mocks disabled people, brags about sexually assaulting women and presides over a system which separates children from their parents, locks them in cages and leaves them, at ages as young as 1 representing themselves in Court.

It is him that disowners the office he holds.

But let us not forget he also the embodiment of a dangerous global movement that poses a real risk of a return of fascism in the West.

Austria now have a far right government, a similar party are threatening to become the opposition in Germany, Italy have a hard right party in power.

Closer to home we are now seeing a normalisation of racist language that just a few years ago I genuinely thought was about to be consigned to  history.

Last year hate crime rose by almost a third. Britons who came here as children in the 1950s and 1960s recently were treated as criminals, with some even deported in the Windrush Scandal as the government set to bring a ‘hostile environment’ against migrants.

The truth is none of these things affect me.  I’m a middle class, healthy white woman.

To some degree I’m insulated from a lot of the cruelty of the world.  But I never want to look back and say while other humans were the victims of such cruelty I sat back as it wasn’t my problem.

By speaking out we can at least show those affected that there are people on their side, we can stop this rhetoric being normalised and maybe, just maybe we can stop the march of the far right.

Remember, the rise of Trump and the rest of his far right cronies is far from over, and all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.