Bankers’ bonuses or care for our parents?

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‘In what industry do you give bonuses for failure?’ This is the question Jon Snow posed to the CEO of the British Bankers Association during a debate with Louise Rouse of ShareAction and the British Bankers Association. My question would be ‘Why are job cuts done at the low to middle level in banks and bonuses are still paid at the top?’ For me it is obscene.

Why does one person need a pay packet of millions and another person does not have a living wage? It is abhorrent that these people live side by side and they are sometimes employing the people on the minimum wage as cleaners, care workers and supermarket staff. These people are on the margins of employment where employers use zero-hours contracts. The rights of these employees is weak.

An example of a broken system was shown on TV programme called ‘protecting our parents.’ It was sad and challenging viewing, as the majority of us will become old. The main premise was the care of an elderly couple in their 80s. At least nine people were trying to provide appropriate care and listen to the needs of the couple, as they wanted to live together in the home that had been theirs for decades. The challenge for the health and social care workers was well demonstrated and you could see they agonised over how best to provide a decent and safe life for this couple towards the end of their days. It was summed up well by a GP, as he said ‘he was afraid that the care decision would come down to cost’. I could see this effected the GP negatively. We live in a society where money rules…..A banker gets paid millions in bonuses, while social workers and health staff worry about how to give our ageing parents a dignified end to their life. As the wife said again and again, ‘I’ve paid in to the system. I can’t pay for private…. It’s not my fault I’m ill.’ She was asking for respect and 24 hour care in her home. What is your answer banker? The taxpayer bailed you out and NOW we cannot care for our vulnerable parents.

Where have the morals gone in this debate? There is a spectrum of remuneration and employee rights but the extremes are not allowing people to take part in their local society. The care workers in the ‘protecting our parents’ were paid by the quarter of an hour, and no money for travel time or cancelled work. Our values seem to be topsy turvy. We have forgotten what is important and notes and coins seem to have taken over. Do we really believe the human construct of money is more important than human life?

From my perspective this approach seems to be going backwards in history to times of slavery. This was illustrated by the film ’12 years a slave’. There are industries such as cheap fashion where human life is being lost (100s of Bangladeshis in a garment factory in a factory fire) and care of our elderly, where people who are vulnerable are scared or unable to get the care they need. When will we say…..

 

STOP, this is enough!

 

Human life and our planet seems to have lost value and I feel ashamed to be a human being in 21st Century. We have great knowledge and understanding BUT we do not use it wisely. How can we tip the balance? There are some that are looking at life product analysis. The concept is that you do not just create something you think about each step along the supply chain of creating a product and disassembling the product. This process reviews the resources used such as the raw materials needed to build a house, the impacts of this process and the embodied energy within it and also thinking about how the raw materials can be extracted from the building when it is no longer needed. This approach is moving from a linear line of production to a circular line. I support this approach by asking these kind of questions when I buy things and through my pension fund as an investor. ShareAction has supported me in doing this important work. It continues to call industries such as the banks to account. A moral voice is needed. Bankers need to recognise the consequences of their actions. When will the industry behave like responsible adults rather than spoilt children demanding more sweets?

Choice – you can’t be serious?

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Do you really believe you have a choice? Come on, think. Everything has limits and choice is only there as far as what can be provided and your ability to access it. Let’s think of health. In the UK, we have the NHS. It was established as a service to be free at the point of use. The idea was to ensure everyone had access to basic healthcare without the barrier of payment. In the 1940s this was admirable and the film by Ken Loach highlights the sentiment of what the NHS stood and this we need to remember.

Is the NHS fit for purpose in the 21st Century? The variety of services that are provided for mental and physical health have expanded, because as a nation we have become healthier and live longer. The types of illnesses are more complicated. This increases the cost and the demand also increases. It is a circle of increasing need. Medical staff are improving their ability to deal with illness and disease, and I presume this provides a sense of job satisfaction. The staff at the top of the hierarchy are well paid earning salaries around the £100,000 mark. However, what about the lower paid staff, who are these people? The nurses, care workers and cleaners are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are on paid much lower salaries and also their terms and conditions are worse. For example, care workers are on zero hours contract, with low wages. This was recently highlighted on the Channel 4 news and blogged about http://blogs.channel4.com/siobhan-kennedy/grim-reality-life-hours-contracts/466 . Fiona Phillips has recently proposed the idea of professionalising the role of carer to improve pay and working terms and conditions. She workers with the Dementia Society, as she was effected by the system when both her mother and father died from the disease. Do these low paid carers have a choice in this system?

What other stakeholders are there in the NHS? Us as taxpayers and as patients. Today the language has changed patients are described as consumers in a lot of literature and there is an offer of choice. However, is this a real market? Can a patient walk away from a treatment? Yes sometimes if the disease is not too serious. However, it comes back to the hierarchy of need. If the disease/illness/condition is life threatening then you have no choice. You must trust the health professional will provide care. There have been stories of care not being provided. For example, food and water not provided, people left in their own excrement because of overflowing bed pans. What is happening?

Health professionals can you provide an answer, is it because of your remuneration? Is it because you are not being treated with respect?

How do we create a functioning health service for health professionals, patients and taxpayers?

Food Glorious Food: Security or Sovereignty?

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Food – we all need it, but how much and of what? When was the last time you were hungry? Have you missed a meal for a diet or your religion? Do you eat your five fruit and veg a day? In response to these questions, I feel privileged as I have a varied diet and I enjoyed lots of different types of foods. I love experimenting with new flavours and textures. I am able to eat fresh fruit and veg and even sometimes stuff I have grown myself. Therefore, I have food security. No, I don’t grew all my own food. I don’t have the energy, space or time to provide for myself and my family.

In the 21st Century, the majority of people do not have food security. Even people who have access to land, sometimes the land does not provide enough or a varied enough diet. These people can suffer from under nutrition (i.e. not enough calories to give them enough fuel to grow as children or do the work they need to do as adults) or malnutrition (i.e. not getting certain nutrients e.g. not enough Vitamin C from fruit and vegetables). Normally, food aid will start and so starvation has been reduced. However, there are still incidence of starvation. This is when there is conflict or natural disasters and it is impossible to get food to people. Are the cases of natural disaster going to increase? Hurricanes, floods, tornados these are becoming a regular occurrence. Do you feel secure in your availability of food?

I am concerned that we have gone soft. We expect supermarkets to be fully stocked, and if not we will complain to the manager. Our food is kept in fridge and freezers for our convenience. We still waste large amounts of food that contributes to methane (a greenhouse gas) as the food rots. Some people such as Raj Patel are starting to talk about food sovereignty. This idea originated in Cuba, where socialists had controlled the agrarian economy. However, as capitalist ideas have creped in over the last couple of decades, there has been an increased desire to own land. The compromise was to allow farmers to have tenure. This allowed farmers to use the land and use the produce for themselves or sell crops at market. However, if the land was not used then the state took the land away and gave it to another farmer. Is this fair?

I think ‘yes’. Use it or lose it…..our natural resources are being depleted and people should be using resources in line with the environment and ecosystems as well as trying to meet the needs of humans. My concern is that we are going to get to a stage where we will not be able to meet the needs of both. What do you think?

How crops are viewed has changed so much. Recently the World Development Movement (WDM) had a campaign to challenge the structure of commodity prices. This highlighted how financial institutions gambled with the price of commodities at the cost of rural farmers who are living on the margins. Is this fair?

New approaches are being suggested. These are ideas like urban gardens, incredible edible, and closed loop systems (e.g. restaurants sending scraps to pig and chicken farmers and then buying the produce). This last idea recognises that uneaten food in a restaurant is NOT waste, but a resource to produce another meal. This to me is amazing and we should be creating laws and policies that enable these types of closed loop systems.

When I started writing this blog, I discussed the idea of fairness. It is imperative for me. At this point in our history, there is NOT fairness in our food….this is NEEDED for survival. Why can’t we act more co-operatively?

21 things they never tell you about poor countries

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This is a necessary set of ideas to think about. I would add something about frugal living in rich countries. This is based on some of the work by Stockholm resilience centre around the issue of nine planetary boundaries.

Emergent Economics

Prompted by Bill Gates’s annual letter and the response from the Overseas Development Institute I thought I’d list some of the things that in my experience seem to be less understood about poor countries. (I wanted to list 23 things like Ha-Joon Chang on capitalism but I couldn’t think of another two). I use the word poor on purpose because although the word risks sounding patronising or dismissive, euphemisms like developing and less-developed can be worse. Thoughts are welcome.

1. Poverty is the rule, not the exception.For most people life just isn’t as good as it is for you and I, the comfortable people from a country rich enough to allow us the literacy, time and Internet access to read blogs written by well-meaning left liberals. Poverty-as-rule-not -exception is difficult to bend our minds around because we tend to base our views about the world on direct experience. If…

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