Homelessness; why are we failing as a society?

Last month I walked down Victoria Street West and Queen Street, one of the main drags heading towards the Britomart in Auckland on a Friday night. It had the usual array of students, tourists and young revellers out sampling what the downtown area has to offer. The vast majority of these people seemed generally oblivious to another section of our society. In fact their behaviour towards them was symbolic of how this group are often treated, which is ignored. The population I refer to is the homeless. During my walk I passed approximately 20 homeless people, mostly men and about half with some form of rough sleeping arrangement. It is disheartening, as you can’t give money to everyone and in reality the money feels relatively symbolic in its paucity. The real problem is, we live in a system that encourages massive inequality and a ‘winner takes all’ mentality. So my point is this; while we still have people who live in these perilous conditions, as relatively well off people step over or dodge around without even looking at them, we have no right to call ourselves a first world nation. This does not only apply to New Zealand but all over the so called advanced nations in the western world.

Homelessness is exceptionally difficult to quantify in the UK as there are varying definitions, such as, statutory homelessness, this is deemed when an individual has satisfied a criteria set by the government. At which point the local council has an obligation to provide housing related support. There is also non-statutory homelessness, where a person does lack a home, but does not qualify as suffering statutory homelessness, for these people there is a lesser obligation required from the council. Also there is hidden homelessness, which are people who do not show up on official figures for example, due to finding a temporary solution with friends or family. Finally the group that we generally relate to as homeless and the group I witnessed during my walk in town, rough sleepers. This is the group I will focus on for many of the statistics. It is estimated in the UK that 4,751 people sleep rough each night, this figure has almost doubled in 5 years.  In New Zealand in 2014 it was thought that 147 people were sleeping rough within a 3km radius of the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland, this was a 116% increase from 2013. But in June 2016 Auckland City Mission announced that the total had topped 200 and was steadily getting worse. It is clear to me that society needs to change dramatically for the prevalence of homelessness to decrease. This has to be spearheaded by a society that does not accept a system that treats the rich like royalty and the poor like crap. We need to start with education designed to tackle people’s misconceptions about the homeless.

Observing people on the street can give us a sharp reminder of reality, that many of us are only a couple of paycheques from the same predicament and this can evoke fear. On the contrary if you are a rich right winger and consider that everything is associated to personal choice, then in you’re own mind you are off the hook. This kind of thinking prevails as you believe that the homeless are on the street through no fault but their own, therefore, compassion is not required. So lets investigate what people think of the homeless. In a study by Shelter Scotland in response to the statement; “most homeless people have just been unlucky in their lives”, 48% agreed, 28% disagreed, while 22% neither agreed or disagreed. A further statement suggested; “most homeless people could find somewhere to live if they really tried”, for this one 45% agreed while 33% disagreed. The article concluded that the public could hold a view of sympathy for example the first statement, while retaining a judgmental view as noted in statement two. Certain groups were found more likely to be critical of the homeless, this included men where 51% agreed with the second statement as opposed to 41% of women. Furthermore, people with lower education were found to be less compassionate. Regarding the response to the second statement 33% of higher education participants agreed with this statement, in contrast 58% of people with no qualifications. Finally it was surmised that people with an authoritarian outlook socially or politically were more disparaging regarding their views towards the homeless. These social and political views were attained by asking about their attitudes towards areas such as; the law, freedom of expression, discipline and tradition. A simple conclusion drawn could be, don’t expect a thick, authoritarian, male to throw some money into a hat of a homeless person on the other side of the street.

It could be argued that our attitude towards homeless people is a product of our misconceptions, due to either a lack of knowledge or a narrative often perpetuated by the media. The first area that many people don’t appear to understand, are the causes of homelessness. The two general groups of factors at play here are individual and structural. It’s the interplay between these two that tend to cause problems.

coh

The mass of bubbles above indicates the individual factors in red and the structural factors in orange. What is immediately evident is that this is a complex process and each individual will have their own unique mix of factors. People often state the main reason for their loss of accommodation is due to friends or family being no longer able to provide support or a breakdown of a relationship. The Salvation Army suggests that this particular justification accounts for around 43% of all homelessness. It is noted, however, that this could be their final destination after a long chain of events. This is in stark contrast with public opinion which suggests the main reason for homelessness is drug or alcohol addiction. In truth this particular factor is a long way down the list and only accounts for 10% of people who are homeless. Importantly, it is the interplay between a series of individual and structural contributors that drives this process. An example of the interconnection between the two main groups could be; individual issues could arise from structural disadvantages such as poverty or poor education. Or personal issues such as the family could be put under pressure through structural issues, such as a lack of a job, leading to poverty. What is important to be aware of is homelessness is a complex mix of events that has led someone to this predicament and it is never just one thing.

If we look at system driven factors of both nation’s predominantly in the 80’s, massive changes occurred, as there was a shift from social democratic ideas to neoliberalism. The switch in ideology was presented in the form of business friendly policies, whilst being incredibly punitive to people struggling to get by. This practice continues unabated today, although many people in NZ hope to see some changes with the new Labour government. However, from 2016’s figures New Zealand spent less than the OECD average (21%) for public social spending at 19.7% of GDP, while the UK spent 21.5% of GDP. Both these figures are substantially lower than the countries considered with the best social provisions in place; primarily the Scandinavian countries, plus France, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Over the last three decades the UK and NZ have made it incredibly difficult to obtain assistance for those in need. There is often an array of hoops to jump through and a growing number of sanctions or punishments imposed if these tasks are not achieved. It’s quite clear that both countries are becoming more unforgiving by the minute. Another system driven dilemma is securing a home, either to buy or rent, it is not an easy proposition. In many nations in the west, house prices are astronomical, making purchasing unobtainable for many. In this current housing climate the only people benefiting from this are the rich. Without a shadow of a doubt the rentier class is back with a vengeance. From 1991 to 2013 private renting in New Zealand increased from 60% to 83%. This is thought to be due to a huge decrease in state housing stock, as many state houses were sold to community housing providers. In the UK Margaret Thatcher led the great ‘right to buy‘ scandal selling many of the countries council houses at well under market prices, while offering guaranteed 100% mortgages. This strategy was used again by Cameron from 2012. These recent sales have been snapped up by profiteers who buy-to-let, thus reducing the numbers of affordable homes for people that really need them.

So what is the impact of homelessness? Firstly the individual; looking at UK figures, the feeling of homelessness, furthermore, the isolation, increases the chances of physical (56%) and mental health problems (72%). The plight of being without a home suggests you are more likely to take drugs, with 26% being users, compared to 8% of the general population. It is noted that the longer you are in this predicament, the more difficult it is to get on your feet. It is offered that this is mainly because the problem becomes increasingly complex over time, involving multiple services such as health and criminal justice systems. The impacts are also felt on the community. It is suggested that a person who is homeless has; a 77% chance of sleeping rough, 53% chance of an involvement in street drinking, 32% of begging and a 10% chance of becoming involved in prostitution. All this affects society and the tax payer. Immediate and long term cost of homelessness is substantial. Using a strategy that prevents homelessness, while helping people quickly, will keep costs down for society, benefit the community and would undoubtedly help the individual who finds themselves in this terrible situation.

impact of homelessness

Over three decades of neoliberalism championing business at all cost, while looking at narrow parameters such as GDP, inflation and government debt, has relegated the needs of people to a distant last place. The current Tory government in the UK under either Cameron or May has been punctuated by austerity, an ideologically driven doctrine, purely designed to benefit the rich. While New Zealand under National until recently embarked on a similar adventure, ruthlessly underfunding health and education. Benefits for workers and the poor have become increasingly scarce, while difficult to attain, in contrast the rich have relished tax cuts, as GST in NZ has increased, which is effectively a regressive tax. These constant handouts for the rich on top of their already considerable advantage has produced a narrative that suggests what they have is achieved by merit. This despite their often superior education, previous inheritance, social connections and of course luck, which is the main requirement. This narrative pushed from every conceivable angle has given rise to uncompassionate MP’s, councillors, business leaders and punitive members of the public. In recent times fining homeless people seems to be gaining traction in many places in the UK; Exeter, Nottinghamshire and Hackney have all been guilty of this abhorrent, cruel behaviour and it appears to be on the rise. Of course that seems fair, lets penalise the most vulnerable group we can find, that sounds like a great idea. All the while we’ll let off the billionaires from paying tax, because after all they’ve got good accountants, that sounds like a plan. In New Zealand property investor and former politician Sir Bob Jones stated beggars were “fat Māori’s” and a “bloody disgrace to the human race”. This outburst from an uncompassionate, vile, excuse for a human being wouldn’t normally be a problem, if it wasn’t for 72% of a 40,000 person survey declaring begging should be outlawed in NZ.

This accepted orthodoxy of neoliberalism spans the entire spectrum of politics. A few individuals can see through the embedded selfishness of capitalism particularly in the UK under Corbyn. Sadly New Zealand doesn’t seem quite as ready for radical change. Our present PM although a huge relief from the dreary Bill English and National is more Helen Clark than Jeremy Corbyn. Unless we turn away from neoliberalism and it’s love affair with individualism, brutal competition and free market voodoo, in favour of our fellow human beings, change will be minimal. On huge issues like this I tend to look towards ‘utilitarianism’ in particularly Jeremy Bentham. Like all philosophies utilitarianism is not without it’s issues, however, Bentham stated, “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong“. Maybe we can start to aim for this by encouraging compassion, empathy and an ability to look outside of our own world, while realising that blame has no positive outcome for anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Jeremy Corbyn; is this Britain’s most dangerous man?

I know looks are deceiving, but judging by the pressure exerted by some Parliamentary Labour Party members, the right wing and any other opportunists it would appear Jeremy Corbyn is enemy number one. Mr Corbyn has made it quite clear that if he became Prime Minister of the UK he would oversee some huge changes, that would have a profound effect on it’s citizens. This is terrifying for the status quo who view their positions at the upper end of society as a right never to challenged. So after a brief respite following the 2017 election the charade to unseat Corbyn continues, this time under the guise of anti-Semitism, again.

The current catalyst for outrage centres around a mural that was painted by an American artist 6 years ago on the wall of a London house. It depicts a group of crusty, white, old presumably businessmen around a monopoly board. The board is held up by seemingly slave like humans, with an illuminati symbol behind. Despite the artists protestations, this has been labelled as anti-Semitic by the establishment, suggesting that this is a anti-Semitic trope. The artist insisted that this was anti-corporatist and has nothing to do with Jewish people, but obviously individuals who had nothing to with the artistic process clearly know best. Enter Corbyn.

mear one.png

On hearing that the mural was going to be destroyed Corbyn replied to the artist Mear One; “Why?, You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego Viera’s because it includes a picture of Lenin”. Apparently this exchange confirmed to all and sundry that Jeremy Corbyn knew this was anti-Semitic and secondly he supported it. All I can imagine is, it’s like a Black Sabbath song, if you play it backwards, it suddenly means something completely different.

Even if I stand on my head, while squinting out of one eye, I still can’t detect where the contents of this exchange with Mear One supports either, the supposed anti-Semitic theme or the mural itself. Yet this has been utilised by Blairites, Tories, the propaganda industry and all the other members of the ruling cabal to weaken a pesky lefty in the form of Jeremy Corbyn. What they conveniently and purposefully fail to acknowledge is Jeremy Corbyn has consistently fought against all forms of racism spanning over 40 years. It’s of public record that between 1990 and 2015, Mr Corbyn has stood up for British Jews and against anti-Semitism 10 times.

So what’s the problem? Well, if we look at Jeremy Corbyn’s political stance over his 35 years in parliament we may get an insight into the psyche of his detractors. Corbyn was strongly opposed to apartheid, a supporter of Nelson Mandela and was arrested outside the South African embassy 1984 for protesting. In contrast the PM at the time Thatcher was reluctant to outwardly oppose apartheid, nor was she seen to overtly support it, but she did undoubtedly receive support from the regime during the cold war.

Jeremy was also an opponent of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, who ran a brutal regime while implementing diabolical neoliberal policies. It must be noted that Pinochet was a close friend and ally of Margaret Thatcher. In the 80’s, Jeremy sided with the miners again against Thatcher and his own party line. Furthermore, when it comes to military intervention Jeremy Corbyn has been on the right side of history every time. He campaigned or voted against military action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, each one culminating in nothing less than a humanitarian catastrophe.

Corbyn has been equally tenacious fighting the ravages of neoliberalism. He disagreed with the Private Finance Initiative, where the taxpayer will eventually pay £300bn for assets that are worth £54.7bn. He firmly believes in public ownership of the railways. Not only has privatisation failed to reduce ticket costs, but the British public now pay £4bn a year in subsidies. Finally austerity, Corbyn is still vehemently fighting against austerity while reorienting the Labour Party as the anti-austerity alternative. It’s no secret that this disastrous experiment is nothing more than right-wing ideological wet dream and has even been discredited by the IMF, not known as the most socialist of organisations. Debt has increased since the advent of austerity from £1trn to £1.7trn, while real wages have fallen, funding for services have been dramatically reduced, plus over 1 million people are reliant on food banks.

CM8z1eqXAAAstnk

In our naiveté we may think Jeremy is just the right person for Prime Minister, he seems to be someone who is an individual of principle who get’s it right both home and abroad. A man that even before he entered parliament was apart of a group of marchers who opposed the National Front marchers in 1977. Unlike many who accuse people of racism, Jeremy Corbyn has consistently been a man of action. Unfortunately that is precisely the issue, he actively opposes needless wars, discrimination, corporate greed, while supporting everyday people. He is though, in the eyes of the establishment supporting the ‘wrong’ side and that will just never do.

The West are currently spoiling for a war with Russia. While this posturing has been going on for a while, with NATO putting more and more bases near the Russian border, recently the tempo has increased. The latest nerve agent attack has also been used to pillory Corbyn, even though there is a distinct lack of evidence confirming who the perpetrators were. This hasn’t stopped the Labour ‘moderates’ using this as a way to cause division, while the Tories also have gleefully joined in with their condemnation of the Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t jump on the “Russia did it” bandwagon and rightly suggested to exercise caution pending the outcome of the investigation.

Unfortunately this sensible view does not adhere to the narrative Theresa May and her fellow Western warmongers are desperately trying to set. Alas there is still no evidence that a former spy of no consequence was killed by the Russian government. This alleged killing of a former double agent by Russia has caused apparent anger and yet the millions killed by the West in the 21st century barely seems to register on the outrage scale. Regardless of any facts Western governments continue playing their juvenile games expelling varying diplomats and people in the West are dutifully expected to dance to this merry tune. So why this recent push on Corbyn?

The obvious answer is, the longer he is around and the more people get to know him, his popularity appears to increase. A more specific reason also lies in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, with their determination to create a fairer Britain all round. This includes going after tax evaders and avoiders while devising a tax system that won’t persecute working people. They are keen on implementing a type of ‘quantitative easing’ that will be used to improve infrastructure, fund ailing public services and return the railways to public control.

All of these ideas will squeeze the private sector of which have made a lot of money while provided often very little in return. It’s not surprising the establishment want him buried under the patio. Plotting against him has been a recurrent theme for the last two years and their methods have been varied. Firstly, generally Jeremy Corbyn receives a massive amount of criticism, often based on very little truth, but this bombardment comes from all across the media spectrum (including the Guardian, which is relatively centrist nowadays).

Apart from countless media smears, we’ve witnessed a couple of anti-Semitism accusations, links with Russia, connections to a Czech spy during the cold war, accusations of being an IRA sympathiser and a supporter of Hamas. The last two accusations could be file under ‘D’ for dialogue. What he was trying to do was promote peace without picking sides or forcing an unsubstantiated narrative, how quaint. Finally Corbyn has received varying assaults on his leadership, including the inept coup attempt in 2016 when Owen Smith became the hapless fall-guy and Corbyn supporters in response joined Labour in their droves.

The question must be asked, despite all this pressure why does he still stand almost Zen like among the chaos. The truth is, these allegations, lies and attacks on his integrity are based on zero evidence. This often repeated tactic usually consists of a small inconsequential moment that the media latches onto, such as engaging with the IRA to foster dialogue between the factions. This is turned 180° and presented in a way to ignite faux outrage with Corbyn’s enemies, while placing doubt in the mind of those still sitting on the fence. This story is consistently supported by Corbyn’s detractors in parliament for example Labour’s right/centre wing and of course the Tories.

Make no mistake Corbyn’s political demise would be a triumph for the ruling elite who inhabit both sides of the house. Currently opposing them are a small group of principled Labour MP’s and a large amount of Corbyn supporters who believe a better life for the many is possible. So in summary, it’s OK to support a moral human being who has been on the correct side of history for 40 years. It makes sense to endorse someone who understands the complexities of the world and is not so quick to pick sides. Finally it’s courageous to back a man who is strong enough to continue fighting the status quo. We need to sustain our loyalty to a man who is somewhat an anomaly in the murky world of politics, a rare gem and a figure of integrity.

 

 

Brexit: The Great British con-job.

The world currently has some major problems; climate change with no strategies in sight, multiple devastating wars all over the planet, the rise of far-right parties across Europe, a recently elected narcissist in the US and increased tension between NATO and Russia. Focusing in on the UK’s issues; the NHS is in free-fall, inequality with all its associated problems is increasing exponentially, while the government adds to the woes of the populace, by spending less and privatising more. The ruling elite are a collection of people who are devoid of compassion and care little of the 99%. Remarkably people still state that they would rather vote for them in the 2020 election. How is this so? What magical strategy have these master tacticians conjured up? The simple answer is, ‘divide and conquer’, a method that has been serving tyrants well, all over the globe for thousands of years. More specifically, one of the ways the Tories have achieved this is through the EU referendum. Brexit as it is known is quite literally the scam of the decade and more importantly for the ruling elite it has worked to perfection.

Never has a country been so divided, not just regarding the EU but on every conceivable level; racially, geographically, financially and nationally (attempts at Scottish independence proves this) to name a few issues. The EU disagreements and deep division began months before the 23rd June 2016 and continues unabated to this day. I claim to be no expert on Brexit itself, in fact the whole process bores the pants off me, because I view it as an intentional distraction, clouding much bigger issues as previously mentioned. It’s fair to say, however, that it is presently the most talked about and emotive political subject in the UK. Each time I post a Brexit linked article on my Facebook page there is always much greater interest than anything else I could post. When discussing the EU referendum on varying pages I visit, political discussions quickly deteriorate between opposing factions. Rational debate between ‘Brexiteers’ and ‘Remainers’ could be at best considered illusive. There appears very little middle ground and every step of this painstaking process to leave the EU sparks less debate, but more anger and vitriol .

As a political junkie, my ambivalence towards Brexit is rooted in my belief that the main purpose of this charade, is to splinter the nation even further. The concept is cunning in as much as the battle-lines between the two camps regarding Brexit are not drawn simply between left and right on the political spectrum. The fissures already evident in society can be complicated further with this added contrived layer of complexity we call Brexit. The population can be divided in a myriad of ways such as; north/south, rich/poor, non-migrant/migrant, Labour/Tory/Lib Dem/UKIP, England/Scotland/ NI/Wales, remain/leave and so on. These varying groups can be manipulated for example by using referendums, inflammatory government policy or media propaganda to disrupt social cohesion. One of the prime levers used leading up to Brexit was immigration. Although the EU referendum wasn’t directly related to non-EU immigration, parties such as UKIP and to an extent the Tories, used the subject of immigration to evoke fear of a country being over-run. They repeatedly suggested that immigration was a primary reason for decreased public services, notably the NHS and an increase in crime. These scare tactics weren’t grounded in facts, nor were they required to be, their job was purely to scaremonger.

farrage

One of the upsides for the government regarding Brexit has been the lack of cohesion within the Labour Party. I hardly think right-wing think tanks would have thought the EU referendum would have such a calamitous effect on the main opposition, but sadly that has indeed been the case. Since Jeremy Corbyn’s overwhelming original leadership election in September 2015, right-wing elements in the Labour party have been desperate to make Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure a tricky one. Labour always describe themselves as a ‘broad church’, but I would offer that they behave more like a ‘dysfunctional family’, such as the Simpsons. There are sections of the party that are simply poles apart, for example, the left largely embraces democratic socialist ideas, while supporters on the other side of the party comically called ‘moderates‘ subscribe to a centre/right ideology. It was this political path also known as the ‘third way’ which Tony Blair and New Labour adhered to. Between them there is no common ground as such, hence the friction. We then added Brexit into the mix and this now gave the ‘moderates’ another stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with.

Shortly after the EU referendum result there was a spate of tightly choreographed mass resignations of Shadow Cabinet members, this was jokingly named in left-wing circles the ‘chicken coup’. The reasons provided for these grandiose displays of displeasure generally revolved around accusations of a poor performance by Jeremy Corbyn in his role of persuading Labour supporters to vote remain. This, however, holds little water as 63% Labour party voters decided to tick remain at the ballot box.

lr-by-party

Regardless of the truth, the right wing of the party continued their assault on the elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. What transpired following this debacle was a protracted leadership contest, with the eventual challenger being little known sacrificial lamb Owen Smith. Despite a whole manner of dirty tricks leading up to the day of the vote, Jeremy Corbyn prevailed again by a huge margin. But in no way has this deterred the Blairites as they continue to ignore the members who largely support Corbyn in pursuit of a Labour leader who is willing to support neoliberalism and austerity.

Recently the Labour leader has declared his support for article 50, which will eventually start the Brexit process. Jeremy Corbyn’s decision is generally borne out of respect for democracy following the narrow vote to leave the EU in June 2016. This unsurprisingly has triggered more resignations and consternation within the party, followed by further calls by many ‘moderates’ for him to step down. It is clear to me that not only have the Tories and it’s many politically attached media outlets used Brexit to divide the country, Labour have used it in an attempt to depose of a socialist Labour leader. It would be deemed inconceivable for many of the MP’s to actually have to work with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. This is a man who is diametrically opposed to the Blairite corporatist way of doing things and looks towards a fairer Britain, not a Westminster driven country club for the privileged.

So how did Brexit affect the Conservatives? Well, after David Cameron resigned, they quickly installed Theresa May and life pretty much carried on as before. The fascinating thing was prior to the referendum, it was reported that the party was split and in a shambolic state. However, post Brexit they patched up their differences quickly and continued to destroy the country without missing a beat. borisTheresa May who was ‘a Remainer’ ended up as Prime Minister, while Boris Johnson who was one of the lead proponents of the leave campaign was given the role of Foreign Secretary. The present cabinet is now a mix of ‘Remainers’ and ‘Brexiteers’, so the suggestions of division within their ranks in hindsight seems rather exaggerated. In my opinion their disagreements were short lived because they all believe in one thing; unbridled capitalism aka neoliberalism. Their EU referendum argument would simply be; how could they best create a neoliberal paradise, in Europe or out of Europe? This is the glue that always binds the Conservatives together; a government by the 1% for the 1% and nothing gets in the way of the establishment juggernaut.

The damage Brexit has caused, particularly for the Labour Party will not disappear anytime soon. It is a powerful tool the ‘Blairites’ can use to rock the boat. Just as many from the ‘moderate’ side of the party have played the antisemitic card on several occasions in an attempt to weaken the current leadership. My view about Brexit is simple, in or out of the EU, which now appears out, the left need to push for an agenda that; cares for the most vulnerable, decreases inequality, changes our interventionist foreign policy and endeavours to look after our planet. I can confidently state that these 4 things wouldn’t have been achieved in the near future whether the UK was a member of the EU or not. This is why Brexit holds very little interest for me, Article 50 does not contain a blueprint of how to tackle our biggest issues. All we are doing is squabbling amongst ourselves and wasting time. I appreciate Labour is not in power, which obviously limits what the party can do. This period, therefore, offers 3 more years for the left to get a clear, simple coherent message across, because we cannot afford anymore neoliberalism anywhere on this planet.

This is a recent quote from Jeremy Corbyn referring to a UK outside of the EU.

“I say to everyone, unite around the important issues of jobs, security, economy, rights, justice, those issues, and we will frame that relationship with Europe in the future outside the EU.”