Isn’t It Time We Made Homes Fit For Human Habitation? By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

The second reading of Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill is on January 19th 2018.

We can hardly believe that, in the 6th richest country in the world, in 2018 it is necessary for such a bill to be raised.  

It is astonishing that such a protection is not already in existence for tenants. Tenants have no avenue for redress or means of compelling landlords to make repairs or even secure the safety of the property.

The Bill would empower tenants by giving them the right to take their landlord to court if they fail to take action to resolve a problem.

There are currently around one million rented homes with hazards that pose a serious risk to health and safety. This affects over 2.5 million people.

You might think that this lapse in the law is an oversight that just needs to be rectified. But you would be mistaken.

A version of the Bill was first introduced by Karen Buck in 2015 and was ‘talked out’. A version of the Bill was also proposed as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and was voted down by the government. Including the 87 Tory MPs who are landlords.  Their argument was that such legislation would burden upon landlords and discourage people from renting out homes.

How did we get in the situation we are in today, one might ask.

Many years of under funding and de regulation of the housing market we could argue.

What could be a greater burden for any person than trying to live in a ‘home’ unfit for human habitation, you might wonder.

Data from the English Housing Survey 2017 found that Almost a third (29 per cent) of homes rented from private landlords fail to meet the national Decent Homes Standard; meaning they either contain safety hazards or do not have acceptable kitchen and bathroom facilities or adequate heating

Poor housing impacts on children by making them 25% more at risk of ill health or disability, including raised risk of meningitis or asthma and a greater chance of mental health issues.

They are also more likely to miss school through illness.  Almost one million privately rented homes are deemed to be in a state of “substantial disrepair”, while 442,000 have damp in one of more rooms.

Poor housing also places a greater burden on other services and affects society as a whole, not just children.

Substantially more working age adults living in bad housing report fair, bad or very bad general health (26%) than those living in good housing (17%), with adults in bad housing 26% more likely to report low mental health compared with those living in good housing.

Those living in bad housing are almost twice as likely to have their sleep disturbed by respiratory problems at least once a month.

The association between living in bad housing and health problems is particularly acute among those above retirement age; with Pensioners in bad housing a third more likely to have fair, bad or very bad health compared with those in good housing (58% vs 38%).

Almost a fifth (19%) suffer from low mental health compared with 11% in good housing.

Almost twice as many pensioners living in bad housing suffer from wheezing in the absence of a cold, compared with those in good housing.

Not only is this unacceptable and immoral in this day and age but it also undoubtedly places more burden on the cash strapped NHS, including mental health services and schools that are already under so much pressure.

So what can we do about this?

We welcome the second reading of the bill and hope that this can proceed to the next stage. MPs will have a vote on this issue and we the people can apply pressure on our local MPs to vote the right way.

You can find who your local MP is and and how to contact them by clicking on the link below.

http://www.ukpolitical.info/YouandyourMP.htm

The above is taken from Natcen’s 2013 report on People in bad housing.

The Rough Sleeping Homeless- A Growing Problem by Eddie Luigi

At this time of year Christians everywhere are reminded that Mary and Joseph found themselves homeless, in Bethlehem, through no fault of their own, but because a physically distant government passed a law to determine how much tax they could collect, in order to keep their privileged citizens in the luxury that they had become accustomed to.

Two thousand and seventeen years later, in English towns and cities, you don’t need to walk far to be reminded that, just like Mary and Joseph, there are now many people who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own, because an emotionally distant government passes laws to determine how much tax they could collect in order to keep their privileged citizens in the luxury they have become accustomed to.

The idea of taxes is a redistribution of wealth. That redistribution of wealth should be for the benefit of the many wealth producers and not solely for the benefit of the privileged few.

I think that a good Christmas present for the homeless would be for the government to put as much effort into their house building policies as they put into their rhetoric about how much they have done, whilst failing to mention how much they have not done that they promised to do.

There are currently 4,000 people sleeping rough and over 300,000 people classed as homeless in England, according to the charity Shelter.

The figure for the rough sleepers has increased by 134% since the Tories came to power in 2010.

Isn’t it time Theresa May and her government owned up to this figure instead of trying to lie about it?

Happiness: A Basic Human Right? Not According To The Tories By Eddie Luigi 

By Eddie Luigi 


Let me make this clear from the start. Generally I am happy and content. 

I view happiness as a three legged stool, with happiness as the seat and the three legs of home, health and an honest wage for an honest job.
Any of you who have studied psychology will be aware of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. 

Which in a nutshell means until you have achieved the basic needs you cannot go on to achieve any of the more humanistic needs. 



The basic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy are food, water, warmth, rest security and safety. Without these essentials it is impossible to proceed up the hierarchy and achieve happiness and fulfil ones potential.


It’s like a game of ‘snakes and ladders’ sometimes you’re going up and sometimes you go down and have to start the climb again.

So, my view is that, until you have the basics of home, health and an honest wage, you can’t even begin to think about happiness. Then if one of those three legs of the stool is missing, happiness comes tumbling down.

But since the tories came to power in 2010, millions of people in England are struggling to gain the basic needs. Hard to believe but the figures do not lie:

4,134 sleeping rough ( up 134% since tories got in 2010) in England.
Almost 1.2 million needed emergency three day food parcels.

250,000 as registered homeless in England.

Around 4 million private renting in England. Most of these will have yearly or month to month contracts, with no basic security. 

That is a lot of people that can’t reach a happy state, or fulfil their potential.

Many self help books advise you to simplify and find happiness in the little everyday things.
This does not seem good advice if you have no home and your day is taken up by wondering where you can sleep safely tonight. 

Nor does it help if your physical or mental health means that your day is taken up wondering if you can be cured, or taken up trying to overcome the splinter in your mind that feeds the self doubts about your looks, your weight, your usefulness or your worth. 

That advice must surely be ignored if after you honest day’s work your ‘honest’ day’s wage, topped up by social welfare, is still not enough to meet your budgetary needs for housing, feeding and clothing your family.

I fear that in our current political situation not everyone will have the three stool legs necessary to think about happiness.




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Why We Should Be Worried  About The Rise Of Gambling Addiction By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Last week I attended an event with Matt Zarb-Cousin, he is known for his previous role as Jeremy Corbyn’s Spokesperson, but is a long term campaigner for the organisation Fairer Gambling (http://fairergambling.org/about-the-campaign/). Since listening to him I’ve been looking at the awful impact gambling now has on our communities.
I grew up with relatives who would bet on the horse racing every Saturday and for them gambling was a harmless pleasure, akin to collecting stamps or going fishing.  

Whilst gambling remains harmless for some, for others it is a desperate source of misery. 

More than 2 million people in the UK are now either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction, according to the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission. They also estimated that the number of British over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years, suggesting that about 430,000 people suffer from a serious habit.

Gambling advertising is now everywhere.

Nine premier league football teams now carry bookmakers names on their shirts. During half time, TV advert breaks are now filled with aggressive adverts flashing up the odds on who the next scorer will be and urging them to log on and place a bet. They are now such a staple part of half time advertising of football games, and have normalised gambling so much that many children think the sole purpose of the break in play is to allow audiences an opportunity to place a bet.
Fixed Odd Betting Machines are a major problem, allowing gamblers to spend £100 every 20 seconds. Indeed the bookies, once primarily concerned with horse racing and football bets, currently make 60% of their income from the machines. 

Currently shops are allowed to have up to 4 machines and this is one of the main reasons for the high street becoming full of betting shops: to allow the company to get more machines in. 

As many traditional shops have departed the high street, the number of bookies and arcades has risen.

I feel these machines are an undeniable source of misery: 43% of people who use the machines are ‘problem gamblers.’ Unlike bingo or a night at the dogs there is no social interaction, in fact I visited a bookies before writing this piece, at noon on Saturday and found people so absorbed in the machine they did not respond to any stimulation like noise. It was a sad sight.  
The machines inflict further troubles to the towns they occupy. One third of the machines are smashed every year, meaning the call outs to betting shops by Police are far above the average to other high street shops. Most have only one member of staff, on a low wage, in store at any one time, so their impact on the total economy is minimal.  

The mental health repercussions of problematic gambling are immense. 

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 80% of addicted gamblers think about killing themselves and one in five make an attempt to take their own lives. As a result, gambling addiction costs the UK up to £1.6 billion a year in mental health, police and welfare system services.

A study published in the Journal Addiction last year found that all gambling increases the participants likelihood of engaging in violence. The gambling industry contribute £10 million per annum of their £13 billion profit towards gambling treatment.  

The social effect of addictive gambling does great damage to the family unit and to the disposable income the family should enjoy.

Poorer people are targeted more by gambling companies: there are twice as many machines/bookies in poorer boroughs and gambling companies are even harvesting data to deliberately target low-income gamblers and people who have given up.

Inevitably calls to set limits on gambling we be met by calls of nanny-statism. But I would like to point to parallels with the smoking ban, which has seen marked improvements in public health since it was introduced in 2007. There are already strict laws on the times junk food and alcohol can be advertised on television. I think the same restrictions should be placed on the advertising of gambling. 

Why not ban fixed odd betting machines altogether? We ban drugs, driving without a seatbelt and cycling without a helmet in order to protect individuals from their own bad judgement, why would this be any different? 

It is not as if the machines provide any positive socialisation or community benefits.
Of course problem gambling has always existed, but the rise in it and the implications it has for those affected and the costs to the state of the health problems it generates surely mean government action should be taken.  
If  you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and would like more information please visit:

https://www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk/

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When You See A Homeless Person, What Do You See? By Eddie Luigi

By Eddie Luigi 



Let me make it clear from the outset, I have never been homeless. I have on occasion slept on the street at night, but was able to go home after I sobered up. I am not an alcoholic, although I have drunk alcohol to excess on many an occasion. I am not a drug addict, but growing up in the 60s I have experimented with a few recreational substances. 

I did not have the best of childhoods, but then again there were childhoods that were worse than mine, and that is not the point of this blog.

Homelessness for me is like China, I’ve never been there but I know it exists. So, what gives me the right to talk about homelessness. The right of a human being to feel compassion, empathy and distress at the suffering of a fellow human being, that is what gives me the right.


Every night I have known where my bed was, in an adjoining room in my home. Which brings me neatly to a definition of what is a home.

A home is where you reside, it is your address, it gives you a place in society, it is your shelter, it is where you can keep warm in the winter, where you can keep cool in the summer, it is where you keep you possessions, it is where your friends and family go to visit you, it is where you can invite people for a social occasion, it is where you can be private, it is where you feel comfortable, it is where you can relax, it is where you feel safe.

You may have noticed that in the above definition the word ‘you’ and ‘your’ crop up a lot. That is because your home defines you.


There are many reasons why people become homeless. 

Some are fleeing from war zones, some are fleeing from domestic war zones, some are homeless following a relationship breakdown, some because their families can no longer tolerate their anti social behaviour, some because they spent their rent money to feed their habit. 
Whatever the reason, once you become homeless you lose all those things that mean ‘home’.

On leaving school no one chooses homeless drug addict as a career option.


So when you pass that person bundled up in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway, do you see a homeless alcoholic drug addict? Or do you see a broken human being that needs some sort of help? 

There, but for the grace of what ever deity you believe in, go you or I.

Eddie Luigi has experience of the Care system and has worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau; assisting many people at crisis point.


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Grenfell : Neglect, Shock and the Idea Some Lives Are Worth More Than Others By Grehan

By Kelly Grehan 

It is now 100 days since the Grenfell fire.

In the days following the tragedy the emotion that overwhelmed me was anger that this had happened, and that although maybe the fire was not preventable, the loss of life was compounded by decisions taken in the name of austerity, deregulation, outsourcing and a general disregard for the economically poorer members of the community.  
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said at the time “There is a feeling from the community that they’ve been treated badly because some of them are poor, some of them may come from deprived backgrounds, some of them may be asylum-seekers and refugees.”
As is now well known Grenfell Action Group warned the council and the estate management company of multiple fire hazards within the building including failing alarms, a lack of sprinklers and of faulty electrical wiring causing frequent power surges and small fires. They warned that the wholly cosmetic refurbishment of the building was a serious fire risk. 

Rather than heed these warnings the council responded with legal action against the group. 

For several decades now a denouncement of regulation has taken place. Phrases like ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘red tape’ are common. Free market think-tanks, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies and property developers lobby government against regulation.
In recent years it has become apparent that poorer people are no longer welcome in the Capital.

For example the demolition of social housing estates, such as the Heygate estate in Southwark, has made way for luxury flats with many bought by super-rich investors. Plots are often sold abroad in Asia or the Middle East prior to domestic sales.

The £83.7 million of cuts in Kensington since 2010 have disproportionately impacted servicers relied upon by poorer people. 

This includes closure of nurseries, of homelessness prevention schemes, of local A&E departments and in a move that says it all to me, there is an attempt to sell a public Library to a nearby fee-paying Prep School.

I can only conclude that the safety, health and quality of life of those in rented accommodation is seen as a secondary concern to profit. 

Last year, an amendment to the Housing Act tabled by Labour to introduce a legal requirement for landlords to ensure their homes are fit and safe for human habitation was voted down by Tory MPs including 71 who were themselves private landlords.



So the catastrophe that has occurred in Kensington causing, death, destruction, injury, trauma and displacement should not be dismissed as an accident. 

It is the culmination of policy and neglect aimed at those whose lives are regarded as less valuable. 

This is seen as unbelievable by those unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of policies designed to ‘punish’ those who are not high earners or wealth accumulators. But the circumstances and outcome of Grenfall are repeated throughout the world in places where neoliberalism rules. 

One such example is Hurricane Katrina which occurred, causing mass flooding in New Orleans in August 2005. It is easy to see it as a natural disaster, but that is to ignore the neglect in maintenance of the flood defences which should have protected the city from what was actually a tropical storm by the time it reached New Orleans. Despite previous repeated warnings the Army Corp of Engineers allowed the defences to fall into disrepair. 

This happened in the context of a neglect of infrastructure throughout America as neoliberal policies gained control. But is also relevant that the homes left the most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees were those occupied by economically poor black people.  

After the storm it took five days to get water and food to people sheltering in the Superdome. In common with Grenfell people did what they could to help each other but, again in common with Grenfell the state failed. 

Divisions formed along class and racial lines. Healthy people of means were able to leave the city – others – vulnerable by nature of being unable to leave – stayed. 

As people began looting to survive, news outlets used the opportunity to paint the black residents as dangerous. A war zone atmosphere emerged as vigilantes and private security guards ‘’controlled’’ the streets. Survivors of Grenfell now speak of being let down by the council, living in transit in crowded hotel rooms, some without hot water.  

My concern in Kensington now is what happens next: Milton Friedman once said ‘Only a crisis-actual or perceived- produces real change.’ 

In New Orleans , with residents dispersed across the country and schools and homes in ruins; Friedman described this as an ‘opportunity’. Public housing, including that which was undamaged was demolished and replaced with housing far out of the price reach of those who had previously lived there. 

Mike Pence (now Us Vice president) chaired a meeting 14 days post disaster to look at ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina.’ New Orleans quickly became the place with the most privately run schools.  



There must be real concern that Grenfell residents and those living in surrounding blocks are able to remain in the area in suitable accommodation. 

Any suggestion that people should be grateful for what they are offered should not be tolerated. 

Counselling and therapy services need to be offered as standard to anyone in the area impacted by what has occurred. Let us not forget many witnessed horrendous scenes and have lost friends.  
History, though leads to concerns that enquiries and cover ups can go on for decades. There is something about this situation which feels like Hillsborough to me, a feeling that the fight for justice here will not be easy and that nothing will change without a real fight.  

Indeed lessons could have been learnt after the Lakanal Tower block Fire in Southwark in 2009 which killed 6. 

Recommendations followed in 2013 but were never implemented, including one to fit sprinkler systems in all tower blocks. 

Lessons about outsourcing, which leads to responsibility and ultimately blame being diluted must be examined. But more than anything I hope we see a change in this attitude that some lives are worth more than others and that profit is worth endangering life for.

Everyone needs to stand up for this for us to have any hope of change.
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Dear Mr Clegg: Austerity Is Not The Victim In All Of This!!! And There Is An Alternative…

Nick Clegg has criticised Corbyn and Labour for “Demonising Austerity” . This will no doubt anger many of us but worryingly it will probably fuel the fire of those that support austerity measures. 

He has personified austerity. As if austerity is a defenceless being that has feelings. 
So let us take a look at the meaning of the word austerity. 

** Spoiler Alert – Austerity is not an actual person **


The truth is that austerity has been falsely used.

True austerity would mean cut backs in all government spending including MPs salaries but that hasn’t happened has it?

The average basic income for an MP increased from £67,000 a year in 2015 (the year they won the election and got into power without the Lib Dems) has rose to £74,000. A whopping 10% !! Hardly ‘tightening our belts’.

Well perhaps they can console themselves that they solved the deficit problem, which surely was the reasons they introduced austerity in the first place? But that hasn’t happened either.

In fact the deficit has increased by 53% (and that is taking into account inflation, otherwise the figure would be much higher).


** Provided by FullFact.org

So what exactly has austerity ‘achieved?’
If you can call a 134% increase in homelessness, a rise in the deficit, a pay cap on public sector workers so severe that now 17% of nurses now have to rely on foodbanks an ‘achievement’ then yes it has achieved something.

The biggest ‘badge of honour’ that austerity has achieved is the UN finding that the Human Rights of disabled people has been violated by austerity.  That is surely something to write home about?

If Nick Clegg would like to point out exactly what  positive outcomes austerity has achieved, then I will gladly listen to him. Because I don’t understand how can you ‘demonise’ a severe economic policy that has left millions in poverty. 

What about the feelings of families that have to choose between eating and heating? Do their feelings not matter?
Many of those in favour of austerity may cry well how do we deal with the economic problem that we have following the Global Crash of 2008? 

Well there is an alternative…

Perhaps we need to think outside of the box that is Neoliberalism, we have afterall been in this situation before. 

The Great Depression of 1931 was followed by austerity and a World War that plunged many of the poor into even worse conditions than they were already living in.
Similarly, the Global Crash of 2008 and subsequent recession led to the introduction of austerity measures in 2010, and an increase in poverty.

Has no one learned yet that tightening our belts after an economic crisis does not work?

On the back of the austerity that followed the Depression, Labour Party created the Beveridge Report of 1942, which set out a grand vision of public spending much like the Labour Manifesto of 2017 did. It provided an alternative to austerity and eventually it was accepted and proved very popular. It led to a landslide victory for Labour and the creation of NHS and the Welfare State. After years of austerity and changed the social and economic landscape of the UK for the better and it was just what everyone needed.

So when will we learn from previous mistakes and eventual victories?

The Crash could have been avoided. Remember, it was caused by the over inflation and free market economics, much like 1931. Keynesian economics would have controlled the over inflation that preceded the 2008 crash and would have opposed austerity measures that followed. 

Keynesianism is an economic theory that works on the belief that economic demand determines economic output, in other words the more the public are willing and able to spend, the better the economy will perform. And this means investing more into public spending, not less . If the public have more money to spend the economy recovers quickly. If the public are skint and poor, how on earth can they spend anything? It’s quite logical really! 

Today we see that austerity has not reduced the debt but that the government are quite happy to spend generously when it suits them with the £1 billion DUP deal, so how long can we live under a false austerity?
The Tories voted against the public sector pay cap only a fortnight ago, flying in the face of hopes of an end to austerity. 

The optimist in me however, would like to think that we are on the brink of a radical change for the better and that it is only matter of time before we have a government that rejected austerity.

For now though if Nick Clegg wants to defend and personify austerity then we should treat austerity as a person.

And in that case (Mr or Mrs) Austerity should be punished by the UN for its’ Human Right Violations and stand trial for fraud. It has been lying to us all from that start.


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Tory Britain: A Modern Day Disaster Zone By Lisa Mulholland 

By Lisa Mulholland 

When I hear people use the phrase ‘emergency food parcels’ it conjures up images in my head of a a war torn country or perhaps a place where a huge scale disaster has hit. I think of a place which has no infrastructure to deal with the problem at hand.

I do not think of the United Kingdom and I certainly do not think of a hardworking nurse needing to use an emergency food parcel.  Yet surprisingly and shockingly it is what is happening. Right now. All around us.

1 million emergency food parcels were given out to families in the UK in 2016 according to the Trussell Trust.

I don’t know about you but before 2013 I had never heard of the term ‘foodbank’. But now it is a term that is quite commonplace.

What does it say about us as a society when people, both working and unemployed must go cap in hand to collect an emergency food parcel?

Recently the Red Cross was called in to support the NHS in what they called a ‘humanitarian crisis’. I found this difficult to believe until I recently had the misfortune of having to visit my local A and E department. There was a 7 hour wait and when I heard the staff call out via tannoy message “We are in crisis tonight please go home unless your injury is life threatening”. I could not believe my ears. 


As a nation, we used to send emergency food parcels to countries that didn’t have an infrastructure to support its most vulnerable in times of war, drought  or disaster.

In churches, schools and local supermarkets we used to do collections for them and I remember feeling fortunate that I lived in a society that, I believed, would never experience such poverty.

But all I see is now is collections for food banks and local communities.

So what has changed?

What went so drastically wrong?

We aren’t war torn, there has been no catastrophic event and there have been no natural disasters. So where is the mainstream media outcry?

There isn’t any. It has been normalised and we have become anaesthetised to it. 

In fact, the Conservative Party and the Mainstream Media would have us believe that our economy is doing just fine. That unemployment levels are at their lowest since 1972, according to the Office of National Statistics.

And that nothing has changed.

But it has.

And quite startlingly so. The decline has been rapid.

To my mind there has been one catalyst, that has set off a chain of very unfortunate events that has led us to the situation we are in today and that was when the Conservatives entered government in 2010.  

They did not arrive in a ‘landslide’ fashion.

There was no overwhelming support for them.

They slithered quietly into power on the back of a hung parliament and had to form an alliance with the Lib Dems just to form a legitimate government.

Yet the chain of events that they have set in place with crippling austerity, targeting the vulnerable, and the disabled has been so severe that the UN launched an investigation into it.

Yes we, the United Kingdom were not only investigated by the UN but our austerity policies were found to be in breach of international human rights laws.

Shameful, abhorrent, cruel. But again, where is the media outcry?

We now hear terms like ‘the working poor’ being used. A term I have not heard in my 38 years of life but that is now a widely understood term in our society.

And now according to a leading Professor (as quoted in the Evening Standard) life expectancy improvements have now started to slow down since the dreaded year of 2010.

The rise of homelessness has doubled from 2010 and that rise is not slowing down. The number of rough sleepers has sharply increased from just under 2000 in 2010 (when Conservatives came into power) to 4,136 this year.

An increase of 134%. 

If the Conservative Party could be compared to a natural disaster, I would say the one that resembles them the most is a tsunami.

They have hit us with wave after wave of bad decisions. And it feels like it is impossible to come up for air.

Just when good old Corbyn forced a U turn on child tax credit cuts, or when the plan for all school to be academies was overturned, every victory has been minimised by the mainstream media while at the same time we are hit in the the face with some other nasty Tory policy proposal.

And that is how it has gone on.

With each fight against some awful decision; some awful cut they try to impose, they simultaneously hit us with another.

How can you come up with air when the waves of cruelty keep coming?

I feel like we are living in our very own disaster movie. You know the one where all the experts like the meteorologists warn of impending doom but no one listens until it is too late.

I feel that’s where we have been with this Conservative government.

In our case we had the economic experts warning us about Brexit. We had the small independent newspapers telling us how austerity would cause poverty. But then you had politicians like Gove putting down the experts with his famous quote last year when he said, “The people of this country are sick of experts”.

No one listened and now look.  

Most disaster movies have a happy ending. So what do we do?

Do we sit and wait for the happy ending to just arrive itself?

I certainly won’t wait. I will keep writing, blogging, petitioning and campaigning until everyone gets the message. And I urge you all to do the same.

The Conservatives don’t care about you or I (unless you are a millionaire).

They never have and they never will .

So if we want our happy ending we need to fight for it in any way, possible.  And soon!

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Sources

The Trussell Trust

The Avenger Review: Harry Leslie Smith ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future’

By Kelly Grehan
 

In 2013 Harry Leslie Smith was an unassuming 91 year old Yorkshireman when he wrote an article for the Guardian called ‘This Year I Shall Wear A Poppy For The Last Time.’ This was shared 60,000 times. He was then asked to speak at the Labour Party Conference and wrote two books: ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ and ‘Love Among The Ruins’. He now has a massive twitter following and runs a weekly podcast and speaks at events all over the country.

 

Now age 95 Harry has published his third book, described as a ‘call to arms’ called ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future.’

 

The book starts with Harry reflecting upon his feelings of disappointment and fear of what lay ahead on the night of the Conservative election victory in 2015. It then compares Harry’s miserable experiences growing up in absolute poverty with those in similar positions today.  

 

Throughout, Harry uses facts and statistics to make his point, for example when discussing his brutal experiences of a childhood spent in transit from one set of poor accommodation to another even poorer one he points out that the use of private rental accommodation has risen by 50% since 2002 and that this, along with rent rises has doomed many children to repeating his own fate. He expresses his pain at the fate of old age being to see ‘society gravitate back to the past.’

 

Harry shows great shrewdness in recognising the causes that allowed fascism to spread during his youth and how some many of the same courses have led to a climate where Brexit and Donald Trump have gained power and that these, in turn are a threat to our core belief systems, with ‘compassion and decency’ now at risk.  

 

He (controversially) makes the point that ‘perhaps it is the young today that have wisdom because they are learning to live with the selfishness of the baby boomer generation that helped create neo-liberalism and made it fashionable to disparage the welfare state while enjoying all its benefits.’

 

Speaking of the aims of society, Harry says ‘Our thirst to do good things like find a cure for cancer and our hunger to do harm to others like selling weapons to Saudi Arabia astonish me.’

 

Despite his age, or maybe because of it, Harry has lost none of his enthusiasm in the belief in a better world or the belief that people, especially young people deserve better. He speaks of the injustice that a child’s economic place at birth determines so much of what they are or are not entitled to.  

 

One of the most poignant parts of the book for me are Harry’s recollections of the humiliation which comes with poverty – both for adults and children. The stigma of poverty leads to negative self image and self blame. Reading this I could not help but picture those families reliant on food banks and the message we, as a society are sending those reliant on charity for food, about their worth,  

 

With so few of those from the Second World War now left to share their experiences of life prior to the Welfare State and the NHS, it can sometimes feel like ancient history and that we are safe from the issues that pained that period. But of course, by comparing modern issues- poverty, poor housing, a rise in fascism, no refuge from domestic abuse, unaffordable health care – Harry shows that they battles won in 1945 need fighting once again.  

 

Seeing Harry’s strength in fighting against the ills of the government at his advanced years is truly inspirational. I hope reading this book encourages more people to leave their complacency behind and fight for a better, more just society as Harry and his comrades did in 1945.  

 

The great thing about Harry’s writing is it speaks across generations. I’ll be buying copies for my Grandad and my friend’s 16 year old for Christmas.  

 

Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future by Harry Leslie Smith is available to buy now.

The NHS Staff Are Heroes, So Why Do We Let The Government Treat Them So Badly? By Kelly Grehan

This article was originally written in the Summer by Kelly Grehan
  

Two weeks ago I had a mastectomy. I went into St Thomas Hospital where surgeons removed my (currently) healthy (and frankly beautiful) breasts and reconstructed new ones using tissue from my stomach in what is known as diep flap reconstruction.

 

The reason I chose to do this is I have a defective brca 1 gene. This gene is usually a tumour suppressor, but it’s faulty status in my body gives me an 80% chance of developing breast cancer.

 

Since I told people about my decision to proceed with the operation, thus reducing my cancer chances I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’ve made a brave or heroic decision. Of course, that is not true, I was in the fortunate position to be able to take control of my own health and future. There is a hero in my story of course, in fact there are several: the NHS and their staff.

 

How could I have taken a decision like this without the NHS? From the moment I saw a genetic counsellor at Guy’s Hospital who talked me through the decision to take the diagnostic test to the nurses I saw at the Wound Clinic today I have been treated as an individual with individual needs and have been dealt with by highly trained individuals too numerous to mention, but that include surgeons from two highly trained teams (breast and plastics), anaesthetists, researchers, specialist nurses, physios and other great professionals like porters and health care assistants as well as volunteers supplying services such as the patient cinema at St Thomas’ and helping in the waiting room at clinics.

 

In all of this, despite the nature of the decision I made and the operation meaning I spent a lot of time undressed I never felt I was losing my dignity. I was helped to shower, comforted as I vomited, helped into bed and had my complicated wounds checked every single hour. The empathy of the nursing and other staff left me feeling good about myself.  

 

I also never had to make any decision in which cost had any bearing at all. Money was simply never mentioned at any stage. Compare this to the situation I could have faced were I an American citizen where my decisions would be governed by the level of insurance I had. Where I may be tied to my job because of the insurance package it gave were the procedure to go wrong at any point and revisions needed. Where I might find parts of my treatment were covered and others not and where the threat of reduction in Obama Care might have forced my to make decisions early.

 

Now ironically my hospital room overlooked the Houses of Parliament and I happened to be recovering when the Labour Party amendment to give public sector workers a modest pay increase was voted down by the tories to cheers and cackles. Austerity has left public sector staff getting progressively poorer year on year. At the same time the tories have continued to cut tax for top earners.  

 

The number of billionaires in the country has actually risen, this is in a context where the nursing bursary (a recognition of the work students nurses provide on wards up and down the country and the hours they study making it difficult for them to support themselves) has been scrapped. Rather than scrapping it there is a credible argument student nurses should be paid the minimum (sorry, living) wage for the hours they spend working for the NHS. Indeed I was cared for by several students nurses during my stay in hospital. Looking after sick people is no easy task and they all did brilliantly. It’s an absurd thought that they are reliant on loans and overdrafts to allow them to carry out this work and that after a 12 hours shift in the hospital some will have been off to other jobs just to pay their rent. The nursing courses are tough, and that is right as it is hard work, physically, emotionally and academically. Why on earth would we make it hard to survive financially too?

 

It’s not just student nurses hit by austerity. 17 nurses a day apply for payday loans and there has been a rise in nurses attending food banks. A 40,000 shortage in nurses is, maybe unsurprisingly, predicted,

 

Then there is the treatment of other hospital staff. For example last week porters, security staff and domestics at Barts Health NHS Trust who are actually employed by Serco (but paid for by taxpayers of course) decided on strike action. They are asking for a 30p per hour pay increase. Serco made profits of £82 million last year.  

 

This country is the 6th richest on earth. Why are we happy to treat our health care workers with such disdain? I owe the NHS staff a huge debt of gratitude, as do many others. I am ashamed that this country is not prepared to reward them with recent pay and conditions and I fear in the future many people, in my position will simple to enjoy the excellent treatment I did.  

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