Well, what a lovely place Britain is these days. For the last two weeks, Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, has been visiting the UK to “monitor and promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing,” visiting London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, where, as a UN press release explained, “she met with government officials working on housing issues, various human rights commissions, academics and civil society.” She “also carried out site visits, where she heard first-hand testimonies and discussed with individuals, campaigners and local community organisations.”
However, when she dared to criticise the deteriorating state of Britain’s social housing provision, and to call for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped, she was laid into by senior Tories, and by the right-wing media, in a series of vile and hysterical outbursts that ought to be a disgrace to any country that claims to be civilised.
The “bedroom tax” is a widely reviled policy dreamed up by the millionaires in the Tories’ cabinet, which provides financial penalties for people living in social housing and in receipt of benefits who are deemed to have a spare room. It is forcing many people to move from homes they have lived in for decades, even though there are very few smaller properties to which they can move. Read the rest of this entry »
Next week (from June 29 to July 5) is “Justice for Lewisham Week” in the London Borough of Lewisham, where the hospital that serves the 270,000 inhabitants has been under threat since last October, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the debts of a neighbouring NHS Trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, through legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime, decided that one way of doing so would be to severely downgrade services at Lewisham (unconnected to the SLHT except by geographical proximity), shutting its A&E Department and axing 90 percent of maternity services along with all acute services.
At the end of January, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, approved the recommendations, but the people of Lewisham — myself included — refused to give up. Campaigning has continued relentlessly, and two judicial reviews were launched in response — one launched by Lewisham Council, and another by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. £20,000 was needed for the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign’s judicial review, which was raised by supporters of the hospital, including Millwall F.C. and other people (including 6,000 supporters of the campaigning group 38 Degrees) who understand that Lewisham is a test case for what the would-be butchers of the NHS can get away with (both in the NHS’s own senior management, and in government).
The judicial reviews will be taking place in the High Court in London from Tuesday July 2 to Thursday July 4, and the campaign is calling for people from the community to attend the hearing each day, and also for a big group of people to be there at the start of the proceedings on the morning of July 2nd. Please email Dagmar to sign up. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.
Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.
Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?
The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »
I just have time to throw out a quick reminder that tomorrow, Tuesday June 11, there’s a Carnival Against Capitalism taking place in London’s West End, beginning at 12 noon, at the start of a week of action against the G8, which takes place on June 17-18 in Northern Ireland. There are two suggested meeting points — one at Oxford Circus and one at Piccadilly Circus — and this is what Milena Olwan, a social worker, told the Guardian about the protests against the G8, echoing what many people think, as politicians meet, who, at best, are deluded, and at worst, like the Tories, are revelling in the opportunity to impose savage austerity cuts on the most vulnerable members of society.
“The G8 are anti-democratic, unaccountable, and they represent an extinct world order,” she said, adding, They embody the old ways of protectionism, imperialism and greed … [W]e will show them that ordinary people coming together taking action can forge alternatives that do not destroy lives but create a life beyond capitalism.”
This is how the organisers describe the Carnival Against Capitalism:
This action will only be as effective as the people participating in it. We have not negotiated with the police and we will not be controlled. If we look after each other, stay mobile, don’t get caught in kettles and are ready to make quick decisions about what to do next we can make the most of the day. Read the rest of this entry »
Please attend the march at 12 noon on Saturday May 18, 2013, from Jubilee Gardens (on Concert Hall Approach near the South Bank Centre) to Whitehall, where there will be a rally outside Downing Street at 2pm. The marchers will cross Waterloo Bridge and walk up The Strand to Whitehall, and NHS campaigners, politicians and union representatives will address the crowd from an open-topped bus. See the Facebook page here and the website here.
The irony could hardly be starker. Across London, and countrywide, cuts begun under the Labour government and aggressively continued under the Tories are wreaking havoc on the NHS. Nor it is only politicians who are to blame, as the cuts are enthusiastically endorsed by senior NHS officials.
As I have been reporting here since October, when plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital were first announced, across the capital A&E Departments face closure or downgrading, even though the need for them has never been greater. In addition, the closure or downgrading of A&E will have a horrendous knock-on effect for the millions of people affected — as frontline services also close, and, to give just one example, maternity services are cut savagely, as only births regarded as safe can take place in hospitals without emergency services.
This is what is planned for Lewisham, where the recently refurbished A&E Department is to be closed, leaving just one A&E Department, at the distant and already overstretched Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, to deal with the 750,000 inhabitants of three London boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley — including, of course, babies and children as well as adults. Read the rest of this entry »
A year ago yesterday, I embarked on a huge and ongoing project — to photograph the whole of London by bike. A year and a day later, I have taken around 13,000 photos, and have published nearly 1,700 on Flickr. As it happens, my time has been so consumed of late with my ongoing campaign to close Guantánamo — where the prison-wide hunger strike, now in its fourth month, has finally awoken the world to the ongoing horrors of the prison — that I have not had time recently to publish photos from this project, although I have continued to take photos on an almost daily basis. I am currently organising the photos by area — largely, in fact, by postcode — as I work out how best to show them and to market them, but to mark the anniversary I will soon be posting a selection of photos from the first year of the project – and if anyone has any good ideas abut how to take tis project forward, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
In the meantime, I realised that today — May 12 — is the first anniversary of an event organised by the worldwide Occupy movement (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York), and that I had photographed the event that took place in London, and so, to coincide with that anniversary, I’ve put together a selection off photos from the various political campaigns and protests I’ve been involved in over the last year. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s now eleven days since the House of Lords voted against a motion proposed by the Labour peer, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which was intended to strike down regulations relating to Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act that had caused alarm to campaigners when they surfaced in February. Following a massive grassroots campaign, featuring a petition by the campaigning group 38 Degrees that secured over 350,000 signatures, the regulations were rewritten, but those of us who fear, understandably, that the government is committed to the privatisation of the NHS remain deeply suspicious, as they were only tinkered with, and not, it seemed, sufficiently to prevent the key section, relating to an obligation in the regulations designed to put almost all NHS services out to tender, from surviving intact.
I described the outcome of the vote in an article at the time, entitled, “This was the Week the NHS Died, and No One Cares,” but below, to provide further details, I’m cross-posting the debate that took place that night, when important speeches were made by Lord Hunt, Lord Owen, Lord Turnberg, and Lord Davies of Stamford — and some important points were also made by Baroness Masham of Ilton.
There is much in the debate that will not reassure those who campaigned so hard against Section 75, and who continue to campaign to save the NHS from the government’s destructive aims — and the deluded machinations of its own senior management — but it is useful for understanding how the provision of NHS services is seen by members of the House of Lords.
However, before I cross-post the transcript of the debate, it is worth asking: what now? There has, sadly, been very little media coverage of the issues since the debate, but one useful article was published in the Guardian on April 30, written by Bob Hudson, a professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords voted by 254 votes to 146 to dismiss a motion, proposed by the Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a shadow health minister, to prevent the passage of regulations relating to Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act (the Tories’ wretched legislation for NHS reform, passed last year), which was sprung on an unsuspecting public back in February.
The reason I call this the week that the NHS died is because the regulations enforce competition on almost all NHS business, paving the way for private companies to swiftly and effectively dismantle it, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.
It is not strictly true, of course, that no one cares, but I stand by the necessity of such a provocative headline. In fact, a 38 Degrees petition was signed by over 360,000 people, but millions should have been on the streets since the Tories first announced their intentions to destroy the NHS. That, however, has never happened. On the night of the Section 75 motion last week, despite furious lobbying of peers, and some great speeches in support of the NHS (by Lords Hunt and Owen in particular), the last chance to block the legislation was lost. Read the rest of this entry »
Wednesday April 24 may be the day that the NHS dies — or that it lives on. On April 1, largely unnoticed by the people of England, the most popular institution in the land, the NHS (the National Health Service), was privatised by the Tory-led government, in regulations relating to Article 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, which force competition on almost all NHS business.
If they are not reversed, the regulations will lead to private companies swiftly and effectively dismantling the NHS, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.
This is a disaster of colossal proportions, and yet it has barely been reported by the mainstream media, although medical websites and blogs, and campaigners — myself included — have been covering it since the regulations first surfaced in February.
On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords has a historic opportunity to derail the regulations. Please email members of the House of Lords today or tomorrow to urge them to vote against the regulations. The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign has put together a detailed list of Lords here, including details of how to contact them by email. If an email is not listed, click on the peer’s name to go to their website, where emails are listed, as well as phone numbers — which is another good way of getting in touch with them, with less than 48 hours to go. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tories came to power in May 2010, aided by the Liberal Democrats, who, sadly, demonstrated that everything they professed to believe in could be discarded if it meant being in government, the very fabric of civil society in the UK has been faced with extinction. This is a country that has developed a welfare safety net to protect the most vulnerable members of society and those who have fallen on hard times, and one that has guaranteed healthcare for its entire population, through the NHS, paid for through general taxation, but the Tories are determined to destroy it, and far too many people have been fooled by their poisonous persecution of the poor and disabled, and their ideologically motivated “age of austerity,” which continues to ruin any chance of economic recovery, while plunging millions of people further into serious poverty.
On Monday, April 1, multiple welfare cuts hit hundreds of thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, and although two newspapers led with the news on their front pages — the Guardian (“The day Britain changed”) and the Daily Mirror (“D-Day for Savage Con-Dem Cuts”) — there is no sign that the British people, in general, have woken up to the full ramifications of what is being done in their name.
From the beginning of the Tories’ attack on the state, the government and large parts of the media have successfully lied about the unemployed and the disabled being scroungers and shirkers, creating a climate of mean-spiritedness and hatred amongst my fellow citizens that I have found to be both shocking and disgraceful, because the blunt truth, which anyone could find out if they could be bothered, is that there are around 2,500,000 people unemployed but only 500,000 job vacancies. Read the rest of this entry »
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