No, Shaun Bailey, We Don’t Want a Re-run of John Major’s ‘Back To Basics’ Campaign By Kelly Grehan

I’ve never been a single mother, I wasn’t raised by one and all being well, with my children now aged 9 and 12 I won’t ever be one.  So Tory London Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey’s comments on single mothers have no real reason to impact on me, except that they do irritate me.  

I am tired of this judgemental attitude to family life.

 In a research paper published in 2005, Shaun Bailey said a two-parent household – “should be the norm”, as opposed to single mothers, and that good-looking girls tend to “have been around”.  

It reminds me very much of the ‘Back to Basics’ rhetoric popularised by the Major Government of the 1990s.  During 1993, Britain was going through what has been characterised as a mora panic on the issue of single mothers. Government ministers regularly made speeches on the issue, such as John Redwood’s condemnation of “young women [who] have babies with no apparent intention of even trying marriage or a stable relationship with the father of the child” from July 1993, and Peter Lilley’s characterisation of single mothers as “benefit-driven” and “undeserving” from the same year. 

 The Back to Basics campaign is probably now better remembered now for the humiliation it bought on the tory party as soon afterwards various ministers (too many to mention here) had to resign after various sex scandals, including some, such as Tim Yeo fathering children through affairs, and John Major later being found to have had an affair with Edwina Currie during the same period.  

However, for people growing up in the 1990s such as myself, this discourse formed the backdrop of our youth.  

Newspaper stories on single parents were always accompanied by a teen pushing a double buggy. Even as a teenager, it struck me as being unfair and caused me to wonder why the demonisation of absent fathers was missing from the attacks. 

Now, having raised my two children through synchronised diaries and teamwork with my husband I cannot say how much I admire my friends who are single parents.  

I imagine knowing there is no one to pick you up if you fall is very lonely, not having anyone to share the joy and worry with must be very isolating.  But they persist.

What I really hate is this constant pitting of one type of family as better than another – the idea we should judge other people by their circumstances.  

 Where does it get us?  

Our culture seems to be transforming into one where we find someone different to us and look down on them.  But then, I suppose this is no different to our Victorian past, where being illegitimate caused a stigma a person could never escape from.  

I believe this stigmatisation is not something we should accept today.  

It certainly does not serve to prevent or solve the poverty many single parents find themselves in, or help them solve the childcare problems that make work so hard for so many.  

There are 2 million single parents in the UK, less than 2% of which are teenagers and 67% of whom are in work, yet 47% are in poverty.  

Imagine that; working hard, managing school pick up times, dealing with all the adventures and difficulties parenting throw at you and still not being able to make ends meet, living with the fear of not knowing what will happen if you don’t deal with every problem life gives you.  

Rather than condemnation I suggest the tories look at why so many children of working parents can possibly be growing up in poverty and get on with doing something about it!

 

 

 

 

When Will It Be A Good Time To Be A Woman? When Women Are Not Held Responsible For The Actions Of Sexually Deviant Men By Kelly Grehan

Today, 11th October, marks the ‘International Day Of The Girl’.

The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges that girls face , while promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.

100 years after some women gained the right to vote and at a time when girls persistently outperform boys at school, some may ask do we in the West still need to mark this day?

The answer to that is simply yes. And here is why…

Last week whilst mocking the testimony Dr Christine Blasey Ford gave against Brett Kavanaugh, the US President Donald Trump said ” It’s a very scary time for young men in America”. He then gave his concerns for young men in America being falsely accused of sexual assault. The President was then asked if he had a message for young women, to which he replied ” Young women are doing great”…

Sadly, Trump’s lack of respect for women is well documented: during the 2016 election campaign, at least 15 women accused Trump of misbehaviour. Ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behaviour around women.

They came forward in the wake of a 2005 ‘ Access Hollywood’ tapes that was released in October 2016, in which he was caught saying ” When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”.

The fact a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women was subsequently elected says that this remains a dangerous time to be a woman.

Coincidentally, last week, a lot of attention was given to some American research into the answers that men and women gave when asked about the precautionary safety measures they take before going out.

Here is a summary of what men and women said;

 I, like many others I expect, discussed this with men I know. They were sceptical that women really took these precautions. Yet women’s conversations were awash with how accurate the list was. And so I realised that a gulf exists between the way that women live their lives and the way that men perceive how women live.

From childhood, girls are taught to think ahead, and prepare, lest they be a victim to a male predator in some way or another. For example the following rules are often taught:

To go to the toilet in pairs;

To never walk down an alley;

To keep curtains closed when home alone at night;

To not let a drink leave your sight;

And a whole host of other things that we just don’t teach our sons.

We know, as women, that should we become victims; we will be quizzed as to whether we took appropriate precautions. Presumably to determine whether or not we are ‘ the right sort of victim.’ Don’t believe me? Look at how female victims are defamed by the press or in court:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/08/husband-murdered-media-melanie-clark-domestic-violence-deaths?CMP=fb_cif

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/17/we-didnt-recognise-that-he-was-dangerous-our-father-killed-our-mother-and-sister

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/rape-sexual-history-assault-cross-examine-trial-court-voices4victims-plaid-cymru-mp-liz-savile-a7570286.html

Let us not forget the most significant rule we bestow on our daughters: to always think about how their clothing impacts everyone else.

Every week the tabloid newspapers and magazines treat us to their ‘analysis’ of what various celebrities have worn. Women are expected to ‘cover up’ in various buildings around the world and are constantly told they their top is ‘too low/ high’ or their skirt is ‘too short/ long’ etc.

We also know that any time a women is a victim of any sexual assault she can expect some sort of judgement about what she wore and what ‘messages it sent’.

Men, gladly, don’t experience the everyday harassment that women can expect wherever they go. And by this I mean:

  • The cat- calls;

  • The men who come and sit next to women on trains and ask personal questions;

  • The men who shout things like “state of that” when a woman walks past;

  • The men who think that it is ok to comment on waitresses bra straps;

  • The men who think it is ok to talk over women when making points during meetings;

  • The men who like to reduce women in high places , where they may be the only woman there, as ” the bird”.

All these are REAL examples I got from a group of friends in a brief conversation this week.  I don’t think it crosses decent men’s minds that this goes on. But it does go on.  It is the backdrop to the lives women live.

A significant, but not unusual example of this occurred last month when Ariana Grande (25)  was given the honour of singing at the funeral of Aretha Franklin.

The occasion was somewhat overshadowed when Bishop Charles Ellis III (60), who was officiating the ceremony decided to take the opportunity to grope Ariana.

 Later he apologised for his behaviour saying :

It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast … I don’t know, I guess I put my arm around her. Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but, again, I apologise.  I hug all the female and male artists.  Everybody that was up, I shook their hands and hugged them. That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love.”

And so he returned to his job with no consequences at all. As #RespectAriana began trending, the usual cries of “why did she not say anything” and “why was she wearing a short dress to a funeral” started too.

Later that same week, Maureen Lipman was given space in several newspapers to drone on about how women dress, saying:

 All this bondage clothing – dressed a bit like a prostitute would have dressed.  But if you speak to a real feminist, they’ll say, ‘It’s my body.’ Young female pop stars today, for example, are saying: ‘It’s my body, and I’m empowered to show it to you.’ But then: ‘Don’t touch it, don’t come near it, don’t flirt with it.’ And that is a bit of a shame because flirting is some of the best fun you’ve ever had in your life.’’

Lipman then went on to defend Roman Polanski and Woody Allen!

Now, have you ever read an article where elderly male actors feel the need to refer to the dress choices of young male artists?  

In fact have you ever read an article anywhere where anyone points out the failings of a man’s choice of outfit?  

Then there is Lipman’s use of the words ‘real feminist.’  

What do we suppose she means by that?  

I’m a feminist and I could not care less what anyone else is wearing, whether it be a burka or a bikini.  

It seems that the patriarchy now wants to decide what being a ‘real feminist’ constitutes too.

This week Penguin books reacted angrily when their pop-up shop in a branch of Top Shop was cancelled just before the shop opened, with the display already set up.  

Any guesses what the book was about?  

It is a collection called Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, and Other Lieslaunched in support of the charity ‘Girl Up.’  

Can we even guess why Phillip Green decided this was not a good fit for his brand?  

No, I can’t think either.

But, as every girl knows, dressing conservatively does not mean that moronic men will leave you alone.

In fact, one in three girls in the U.K. has been sexually harassed in public while wearing a school uniform, and two thirds of girls have said they have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public.

The figures come from a report by children’s charity Plan International UK; which said that many girls feel that street harassment “is all part of growing up”. The saddest thing is that with our culture being the way it is, it is difficult to argue that their perception is wrong.

The truth is misogyny continues to run through our culture.  As women, we adjust our lifestyles to fit with the expectations and restrictions placed upon us.  

We need to take decent men with us on our fight to smash the patriarchy.    

 

Poverty: Home is Where the Start Is By Kelly Grehan

Home, the place you should feel the most comfortable and the most secure has become the very thing which enslaves many Brits to poverty.

Around 14 million people in the UK live in poverty in the UK (according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) which is over one in five of the population.

At least 8 million of them live in families where at least one person is in work.  

How has it happened that a continued rise in employment is no longer reducing poverty?  

Whilst the reasons are multiple and doubtless include the rise in zeros hours contracts, state support for low-income families through benefits and tax credits falling in real terms and stagnant wages, housing must now be seen in terms of the devastating impact it has on so many. 

 The chances of owning your own home have halved in the last 20 years.  For those on middle income jobs, which once guaranteed a good standard of living the chances of owning a house is now diminished.  

Just 27% of 25 to 35 year olds in this bracket now on the property ladder, which is unsurprising when you consider that over the past 20 years, average house prices have grown about seven times faster than the average incomes of young adults (according to the IFS). Yet average house prices have increased by 152% whereas wages for 25- to 34-year-olds have only risen by 22% in real terms over the same period.

 

This means that many people who would have been home owners in the generation before theirs are now at the mercy of the private rented sector.

Their income should have meant they could comfortably afford the mortgage on an average property in an average area, but instead rising rents and the costs of deposits and upfront rents leave many struggling to manage.  

Unsurprisingly if those on good incomes struggle to afford the roof over their head then for those on low incomes the situation is even worse.  

47% of working-age adults on low incomes spend more than a third of their income (including Housing Benefit) on housing costs.

More than a third of working-age adults receiving Housing Benefit now have to top it up out of their other income to cover their rent.  

Let us not forget that many people on low incomes do important jobs like health care assistants and teaching assistants. 

Right to Buy has left pressure on the UK’s limited and often antiquated housing stock which simply means the social housing system can not operate in any way which works.  

Pressure on local authority housing lists means many desperate families  are stuck in temporary accommodation which radically undermines family life.  It also means many people with specific needs such as mobility and disability issues are in properties completely unsuitable for them which further impacts their health and ability to access services – for example there are people whose inability to get a wheelchair through their doorways effectively leaves them trapped in one room – isolated from any groups or activities outside the property.

As public housing stocks has fallen public housing has become almost synonymous for some with problem families; stigmatising children and adults alike and playing into a dangerous ‘us-and-them’ mentality.  

At the same time lack of access to the limited housing stock leads to raised tensions in communities as people instinctively resent those fortunate enough to be allocated a property.  

None of this is good for communities.

As demand outstrips supply; landlords are able to be less and less responsible, and as the costs of moving are always with the tenant, people are increasingly afraid to complain about the poor standards or their home.  

From the taxpayers point of view, this causes further costs as poor quality housing damages health, through for example more accidents and asthma being caused by exposure to damp environments. Furthermore; people with mental health conditions are one and a half times more likely to live in rented housing than the general population.

 Children who have lived in temporary accommodation for over a year are three times as likely to have a mental health condition than other children, including depression and anxiety.  

This might be because they lack space to do homework or have friends over.

10% of mothers who lived in acutely bad housing were clinically depressed, further impacting on family life. 

Rough sleeping had almost been eradicated by the Labour government of 1997-2010. However since the election of 2010 there has been a catastrophic rise of 169% in the number of rough sleepers with an estimated 4,751 people sleeping outside overnight in 2017.

 

While rough sleepers are the ultimate victims of the UKs crazy housing systems, other types of homelessness have also risen: homelessness among people with mental and physical health problems has increased by around 75% since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, and there has been a similar rise in the number of families with dependent children who are classed as homeless.  

Every person in this situation is suffering unimaginable amounts of stress.

Even the houses we are buying are not seeing occupants have a better standard of living than their previous generations.

New homes are now 20% smaller than those built in the 1970s, whilst this means raised bigger profits for developers, as kitchens and living rooms get smaller family life is inevitably negatively impacted.

 In short every single part of our housing system is dysfunctional and a failure to fix it means more and more people are dragged into a poorer standard of living which, in short means there is more misery and more suffering.

 How long are we going to let this madness continue?  

 

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!