Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Healthwatch Haringey - Have Your Say

On http://www.haringey.gov.uk/www.haringey.gov.uk/healthwatch-haringey you will find a publicity brochure about a new organisation, Healthwatch Haringey, which is supposed to be 'your local health and social care watchdog'. On behalf of the Defend Haringey Health Services Coalition, I am writing to organisations who may be concerned about the following facts:-

1) Haringey Healthwatch will apparently replace 'Link', which has recently been the patients' representation body. It's being set up at a time when new laws and structures are changing the health service drastically. In particular, the new Commissioning Boards (to 'buy' hospital, etc  services on behalf of local doctors) and orders from central government to put many parts of the NHS out to tender to 'any willing provider'

2) The brochure contains a 'have your say' questionnaire and an invitation to any reader to 'get involved' presumably so that the Council and the NHS can choose who will be members of the new body and continue to represent patients. No elections, just volunteers - and they choose who to have.

3) This is apparently being distributed through Morrison’s supermarket (and some libraries); it has just been noticed in the last few days and we don't know where else it can be obtained except the website given above.

4) The brochure says 'our consultation so far has been with the following voluntary and community sector groups', then mentions a list of 22 local organisations. There are some MAJOR omissions in this list:-

NO consultation with residents' association or their Haringey Federation
NO consultation with trade unions
Two Christian groups mentioned, but no other faith groups
NO reference to Age UK or the Haringey Older People's Forum
Patchy and limited coverage of ethnic minority groups - have a look at the list

5) 'Decisions about what Healthwatch Haringey will look like will be made in consultation with local people, stakeholders and Haringey residents'. One might ask, how ?  and which residents ?
Please circulate this message and encourage the un-consulted people and organisations to come forward!

You may also wish to write to any of the Councillors who are cabinet members for relevant policy areas, to ask them how Healthwatch members are going to be chosen and how the population are supposed to find out they can put themselves forward:- 

Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Services – Cllr Dilek Dogus
Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion (and Economic Development, but it's inclusion that's relevant here) – Cllr Alan Strickland
Cabinet Member for Communities – Cllr Bernice Vanier

Councillor Reg Rice(Chair) , 225 High Road, Wood Green, London, , N22 8HQ, , reg.rice@haringey.gov.uk
Councillor David Winskill,(Vice Chair) River Park House, 225 High Road, Wood Green, London, N22 8HQ, 020 8374 5650, david.winskill@haringey.gov.uk.

Written by Anne Gray, Haringey Green Party

Monday, 20 August 2012

Patriotism and the Left

My post on the London 2012 Olympics started a debate within Haringey Greens about patriotism in Britain and whether this is positive thing, or rather a reactionary, undesirable, and even dangerous concept. So, I’m expanding my thoughts here, and hope that my colleagues will post their opinions, either in a separate post, or via the comments section for this post.

I must say at the outset, that I’m not one for waving the Union Jack and like most people on the Left, patriotic behaviour makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I think this stems from patriotism’s association with Britain’s imperialist history and the propensity of the Right (especially the far Right) to wrap themselves in the flag and the xenophobic and racist outlook that inexorably seems to flow from this position.

The other troubling kind of patriotism, perhaps more accurately described as jingoism, is when it is related to war. I can still remember my horror during the Falklands war against Argentina in the early 1980’s when a kind of collective madness swept the country, and every young man it seemed, became an armchair general and weapons expert, egged on by the ‘red top’ press and the BBC. The term ‘Argie’ was coined to describe the Argentinians and I learnt never to trust the BBC’s reporting when the country’s armed forces are in action.

I have always separated sport from this kind of patriotism though, and tended to support Britons in sporting contests. Even then, although I have always loved football, it was mainly of the club variety, and my club, Manchester United in particular. United have always had something of the ‘Celtic fringe’ about them, and even before globalisation, were an internationalist club. At one time, I supported Scotland in the football against England, because there were quite a few United players in the Scotland team, and none in the England team.

Gradually, over the years, I have changed my mind on the England football team. With large screens in pubs these days to watch international football, I like the community feel of these events (always a disappointing sporting result), and the ensuing camaraderie of watching the game in communal surroundings such as this affords.

I’ve been lucky enough to be working in the Olympic park over the course of the London Games, and anyone who has been there cannot fail to have noticed the great atmosphere, with the flags of many nations displayed. There was a joyous, excited spirit amongst the volunteers and spectators and not even a hint of aggression, but instead a friendly and respectful ambience that was tremendous to experience. Coupled with the multi-cultural make-up of the British team, I think this was a positive type of patriotism.

The Observer newspaper published an opinion poll this week that finds that 75% of respondents believe that the Olympics showed Britain to be ‘a confident multi-ethnic country’. The same proportion of people said they supported all Team GB athletes equally regardless of where they were born. The same newspaper has a piece by Tim Soutphommasane, The Australian is a political philosopher and author of the book, The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multi-cultural Society, who is advising the Labour party leader, Ed Miliband, on such matters. It is well worth a read.

Drawing on experience mainly from Australia, he says multi-culturalism has been about securing civic equality. A demand for inclusion and respect, not separation and privileged treatment, which has been undermined to some extent, by the emphasis on a ‘community of communities’. As though there could be no common ground, but only difference. He concludes that after the success of the London Olympics, many countries are looking to Britain as an example of a dynamic multi-cultural society united by a generous patriotism.

The political Left cannot afford to leave the monopoly of the concept of patriotism to the political Right, because it is a deeply embedded cultural phenomenon, and we should have the confidence not to cede this ground to their ugly, separatist type of patriotism. The London Olympics have showed us the way to celebrate our positive patriotism, multi-cultural, inclusive and respectful of our country and of other countries cultures and people. We can use this positive force to grab the flag back from those who would use it to divide us, at home and internationally.          

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Ethical Case for People Power

Politics is far too important to be left to politicians. They are often the last people to get the message on social justice and human rights. Much of the time, pressure for social reform is first initiated outside of parliament by campaign groups like Greenpeace and Animal Aid, using challenging, even provocative, methods of protest. These extra-parliamentary activists are frequently the true sparks and catalysts of political change.

What do Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst and Martin Luther King have in common? They all used direct action protest as a way of winning human rights and social justice.

Pleading with politicians was not their style. They tried conventional lobbying but found that writing letters to MPs and having tea with government ministers did not work.

Faced with an unresponsive political establishment, they staged street demonstrations, organised hunger strikes and sit-ins, refused to pay taxes and ambushed political leaders. By these means, India won its independence, women got the vote and racial segregation was ended in the USA.

Two decades ago, direct action secured one the biggest ever political climb-downs in modern British history. Margaret Thatcher’s much-hated Poll Tax was defeated when millions refused to pay and hundreds of thousands protested in the streets. Opposition MPs had proven powerless to stop the Poll Tax. But when people took power into their own hands, Thatcher’s flagship policy collapsed.

The defeat of the Poll Tax illustrates a very important principle: ordinary people have great power, if they choose to use it. Moreover, democracy is about more than voting once every five years. Having your say in a general election is fine, but not enough.

Something as important as running the country should never be left to politicians. Look at the mess they have created: their loosening of financial regulation paved the way for cowboy capitalism and the current economic meltdown. They have allowed criminal bankers to escape prosecution for the mass frauds they committed. The consequences? Mass unemployment and the decimation of people’s savings and pensions; plus savage cuts in public services, to the point where, to save money, some patients are being refused treatment by the NHS. It’s a scandal of monumental proportions. No wonder so many people are disillusioned with traditional politics. Hundreds of thousands are deserting the ballot box and turning to direct action protest instead. The student protests and “occupy” movements are giving voice to the anger of millions. 

Sometimes, it is pointless looking to politicians for help. They are often the cause of the problem. The vast majority of people are against genetically modified food, but the government insists that unsafe crop trials must continue. Three quarters of the public want an elected House of Lords but rebel MPs have succeeded in scuppering every attempt at democratisation. There was mass opposition to the war in Iraq but Tony Blair and a majority of MPs rode roughshod over the people’s will.

When politicians ignore the wishes of the people and break their promises, direct action is the only option left. Who can blame Greenpeace for wrecking GM crops and hunt saboteurs for saving foxes from being torn to shreds by dogs? Their methods got results when lobbying the government had failed.

The arguments for and against direct action revolve around two fundamentally different styles of politics. Representative democracy is the system where MPs are elected to represent their constituents and act on their behalf. This tends to encourage elitism and paternalism in politicians, and disempowerment and passivity among the electorate.

Participatory democracy is, in contrast, about people being involved in the political process in an on-going way, rather than only at election time. They take power for themselves, instead of handing over responsibility to professional politicians. This ensures better checks and balances against the abuse of power and against the way MPs so often neglect public opinion.

Direct action is the highest form of participatory democracy. People take power and represent themselves. They get involved in political decision-making, and through their own efforts bring about social change.

Having taken part in more than 3,000 direct action protests over the last 45 years, the beneficial effects are self-evident to me.

Take, for example, the issue of police victimisation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. By 1989, the number LGBT people arrested for consenting, victimless behaviour was greater than in 1966, the year before the so-called decriminalisation of homosexuality. Respectable gay organisations like Stonewall lobbied the police, but were ignored. Then, in 1990, the queer rights group OutRage! began a high-profile direct action campaign to challenge harassment.

We invaded police stations, busted entrapment operations, photographed undercover officers and hounded the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

These were controversial tactics, but within three months the police were pleading with us to join them at the negotiating table. Soon afterwards they began their first serious dialogue with the LGBT community. Before a year had passed, they had agreed to most of our demands for a non-homophobic policing policy. Within three years, the number of men convicted of ‘gross indecency’ (consensual same-sex behaviour) fell by two-thirds - the biggest, fastest fall ever recorded. Our campaign helped save thousands of LGBTs from arrest, prosecution and criminal records.

My conclusion? Direct action can be a highly effective way to change things for the better – and sometimes the only way. When well planned, it works.

An imaginative protest can be a very dramatic, headline-grabbing way to draw public attention to injustices that might otherwise be ignored or overlooked. If you can get a protest in the news, it helps raise awareness of the issue and puts people in power under pressure to address your concerns.

Many of my direct action protests have involved civil disobedience - deliberate law-breaking modelled on the sit-ins of the US black civil rights campaigners in the 1960s. Indeed, in the early 1970s, I was involved in sit-ins at pubs in London that, in those days, refused to serve “queers”.

Breaking the law can be ethically justified in three circumstances: when politicians ignore the wishes of the majority, break their election promises or violate human rights.

Sometimes, of course, the majority will may conflict with the protection of human rights. This happened in Nazi Germany, where most people, either explicitly or tacitly, colluded with the persecution of Jews. In such cases, the protection of human rights should always trump majority opinion. No majority has the right to victimise minorities.

Direct action can be a vital mechanism for the defence of democracy and liberty, against the abuse of state power or mob tyranny, as exemplified by the suffragettes and the Anti-Nazi League.

Far from threatening the democratic process, protest from outside the parliamentary system protects and enhances democracy - acting as a much-needed counter-balance to the frequent arrogance, self-interest and elitism of political parties and politicians. Power to the people!

Written by Peter Tatchell

For more information about Peter Tatchell’s human rights and social justice campaigns: http://www.petertatchell.net/

Monday, 13 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics – A Worker’s and Volunteer’s Games

Concerns about the corporate nature of the London Olympics have been reported on this blog here and here. Indeed, for the paltry sum of £700 million, out of a total cost of £9 billion, the corporate sponsors were always in your face, but they did not manage to define these Games in the popular imagination.

Rather, these Games will be remembered for the fantastic performances of the athletes (and especially the British athletes who galvanised the public mood in the host nation) who exemplified the Olympic ethos of sporting excellence and international spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Who can forget that magical Saturday night on 4th August when three British athletes struck gold in one heady hour on the athletics track in the Olympic Stadium?

I was lucky enough to be able to witness this exciting session on television, because I wasn’t working a shift that night, a shift on the Olympics themselves. I was employed on the Games, working on transport at the stadium, as one of the thousands of ‘Games Maker’s’. Although many of the ‘Games Maker’s’ were volunteers some of us have been fortunate enough to be paid for our services, and paid quite well.

Aside from the sport itself, the ‘volunteers’ have been the biggest hit of London 2012, with their good humoured and enthusiastic efforts to welcome visitors and to ensure that the Games went as smoothly as possible. On my team, we had Games Maker’s from all over the country, and one from Germany, all staying with friends and relatives for the duration, and helping to make these Games an unforgettable experience.

On my way to and from work, people would uncharacteristically smile at me in my uniform and often strike up a conversation on the tube, about what my role was, would we win any medals today etc. I popped into one of my local shops on the way home from my shift one day, and was there for about 20 minutes, as everyone in the shop, staff and customers alike, wanted to talk to me. I must admit to feeling a bit of a fraud because I was being paid, when everyone assumed I was an unpaid volunteer. It was noticeable that the loudest cheer at the closing ceremony was for the volunteers.

London’s diverse nature was well reflected in the nationality and race of the Games Maker’s, with all parts of the world represented, symbolising contemporary London and the country at large. One night on my way home from my shift, a group of a dozen or so Games Maker’s in the Olympic Park, completely impromptu, were performing an African chanting and dancing routine to entertain the leaving throngs; and they were surrounded by a large crowd of watching, enchanted visitors. It kind of made me feel proud to be British.

Much talk is now of the legacy of these Games, and there is surely an opportunity now to encourage more people, particularly the young, to engage in sport at all levels. Women’s sport has benefited hugely from getting almost as much attention as the men, and women’s football, watched at times (even when Team GB weren’t playing) by crowds of 60, 70 and 80 thousand spectators, should able to build on this popularity.

But at the end of the day, for me, the legacy will be that over these past couple of weeks, Britain has re-defined itself at last. From the opening ceremony’s celebration of trade unions, the NHS, and the ‘Windrush’ generation, to the multi-cultural make-up of the Games Makers and the athletes, we have displayed our modern Britishness to the world, and indeed to ourselves.    

Monday, 6 August 2012

Mark Duggan: the lessons the police haven't learned

Last week I attended the funeral of Bruno Hall. It is a year since his son, Mark Duggan (pictured), was shot and killed by police officers on the streets of Tottenham. Bruno was given his send-off in the same church as Mark, and buried in the same plot. For the hundreds of mourners, it felt like we were reliving the trauma and emotion of Mark's death all over again.

Bruno passed away not knowing why his son had been killed. One of the last things he said to me was that he had more unanswered questions than he had on the day of Mark's death. Much has been written about Mark's killing and the subsequent disorder that spread across the country. However, it would appear that very little has been learnt about its root causes, especially by those in positions of power.

The riots that took place in Tottenham did not happen because of the shooting of Mark Duggan: if this was the case the rioting would have started on 4 August, the day he was slain. The rioting was sparked by the inadequate response to demonstrators who had gathered outside Tottenham police station two days later to voice their unhappiness over the treatment of Mark's parents. This is important and must be acknowledged if we are to avoid future outbreaks of social unrest.

The Metropolitan Police Service has clearly not learned this. It was forced to apologise publicly to Mark's parents, after failing in its legal requirement to inform them of their son's death. But it still doesn't understand that had it performed its basic duties, demonstrators need never have gone to the police station. And if we hadn't attended there would have been no rioting that evening. It is that simple. Yet, even after having apologised, the Met still compiled a report, Four Days in August, that sought to lay the blame for the riots on those who led the peaceful protest. Clearly they should be focusing on improving the way they respond to such incidents – or, better still, trying to ensure such incidents do not arise in the first place.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission's investigation into the operation that led to Mark's death is another great concern to the family. The IPCC meets regularly with family members in what they call "update meetings", but actually tell them very little.

The whole issue of disclosure of information, or the lack of it, has become a significant feature of this investigation, with the inquest coroner having to demand that the IPCC hands over all its evidence for him to examine. But it's hard to know what this evidence amounts to, as the officers involved in the shooting still refuse to give statements or to be questioned directly by the IPCC. There is also the suggestion that the laws that keep secret any telephone-tapping activity by the security services may be enacted in this case – meaning that an open inquest, where all the evidence is presented to a coroner and a jury, might never take place. It's as though a veil of secrecy has been thrown over the entire investigation. This clearly undermines the confidence that the family, and many within the community, have in the IPPC's ability to conduct a thorough, transparent and robust investigation.

It is ironic then that, in the time the IPCC has taken to tell us so little, there have been three separate "independent" reviews, published with much fanfare, that are already gathering dust. The Tottenham Community Panel's review, Taking Tottenham Forward, was led by Haringey councillors and their friends. While well-meaning in its focus on the regeneration of the high road, its buzz words and jargon mean little as the report has few measurable targets or milestones. How will the local authority, Haringey, develop training, jobs or opportunities for those who live in its depressed estates that are the breeding grounds for the potential demonstrators and rioters of the future? Added to this is the recent unwarranted involvement of the police, whose interference and intrusive style of policing led to the last-minute cancelling of an event to commemorate Bruno's life and passing. Incidents like this mean there will always be the potential for conflict between those with power and the powerless.

Despite all of the investigations and reviews of the last 12 months, there is a real sense within some sections of the community of not having been involved or listened to by anyone in authority. Things such as this only serve to exacerbate the local people's long-felt and deep sense of marginalisation and injustice. We should have learnt that these are the ingredients for a "perfect storm", which can break out any time.

Written by Stafford Scott and first published in The Guardian

Thursday, 2 August 2012

One year on from the riots: could money solve Tottenham’s problems?

Voltaire once said, “When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.” I’m not so sure about that.

Shortly after the riots ended last year, Tottenham has received a wave of investment into its local economy. However, money alone cannot solve the area’s problems and unless they are dealt with head on we run the risk of more civil unrest.

Sir William Castell’s business coalition set up a £1m High Street Fund to support Tottenham’s local business community. The department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) has awarded grants to 150 businesses totalling £365,000 and more than £1m of rate relief has been awarded to date.

Tottenham Hotspur FC has made a decision to remain in the area. The GLA has promised to turn a building damaged in an arson attack last year into a £3m enterprise hub. Tottenham’s local business community have received support by various government bodies.

All of this is needed and welcome. In fact, we need more! And Haringey Council have put together a budget for youth provision this summer. This is a temporary measure, but I hope it will be expanded. The council have committed to fund a new employment and skills programme worth £4.5m which is good. On top of that, their £1.5m One Borough One Fund is great.

But the 80% cut to youth services is still on the minds of young people. Hundreds of businesses’ riots damages claims are yet to be settled. Unemployment levels are still too high. It’s a tough battle.

The riots have spurred new investment into the local community. But we have got to make sure that this isn’t a short-term fix to a long problem. Tottenham has now got two riots bookending a generation and the socio-economic harm caused by these events will not be healed quickly.

The fact that another riot has happened again 20 years after the Broadwater Farm Riots must serve as a pertinent reminder of the problems with short-term thinking.

Money can’t fix everything: it can’t pay people to forget the fact that Mark Duggan’s death has not been properly investigated. It cannot buy a change in law to allow the coroner to interview police officers about what happened minutes before the shooting.

It can’t buy the justice that so many people seek. In the immediate aftermath of the riots, David Lammy MP warned us of the similarities with the Broadwater Farm Riot. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had to prove its worth. So far, it hasn’t proved to be totally effective.

What money can do, though, is provide opportunities. We could, for example, have big businesses in Tottenham guarantee jobs for local people. Those who have got Olympic jobs could be helped in the post-Olympic transition to long-term jobs. We could maintain the number of police officers in the area, instead of having to cut them. We do need investment: in the right places and for the right reasons.

While the investment is a step in the right direction we must not forget what matters most. The Broadwater Farm Riots taught us that no amount of investment could buy people. In the aftermath, the council invested in the estate that improved the area.

But you can’t pay away anger and resentment. One year on from the riots, let’s not make the mistake of forgetting. We’ve got no excuses. Beneath all the pound signs lies a sometimes silent frustration that only needs another spark.

Written by Alvin Carpio who was the Organiser of the Citizens’ Inquiry into the Tottenham Riots

This piece was first published at Liberal Conspiracy

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Council Tax Benefit Changes to cost £38 per household in Haringey

Plans to give local authorities control over council tax rebate at the same time as cutting funding by a tenth could result in the poor driven out by boroughs seeking to save money – and raises the prospect of a replay of the poll tax debacle, a report claims.

A damning assessment by the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the proposed council tax benefit changes, which start next April, says that although the reform's £480m-a-year savings equate to an average £19 per household, the working poor would be hit hardest.

The government proposes to allow councils to design a local benefit system but in return says it will cut funding for it by 10%. With 5.9 million recipients, it is more widely claimed than any other means-tested benefit or tax credit.

The cut in funding will be larger, says the think tank, in areas where council tax benefit spending is highest – the more deprived areas of Britain. It estimates the cut in funding will range from around £5 per dwelling in the wealthy City of London to £38 per household in Haringey, the fourth most deprived borough in the capital.

The report also notes that the requirement to protect pensioners in England means that the cut in funding of a tenth translates into a 19% cut in support for working-age claimants.

Those local authorities where pensioners account for an above-average share of council tax benefit spending would need to make larger percentage cuts to support for working-age recipients. For one in 10 English local authorities it would be more than 25%, with the highest value being 33% in East Dorset and in Craven, North Yorkshire.

The IFS also says cuts to council tax support are bound to hit lower-income households, as 85% of the benefit goes to the lower-income half of households and almost half goes just to the lowest-income fifth.

The report's authors warns that to limit their spending councils will have "an incentive to discourage low-income families from living in the area" and that raises the possibility that councils will – like the ill-fated poll tax of the early 1990s – be left to chase desperately poor people through the courts for small amounts of unpaid tax.

The poll tax led to riots and played a part in the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. Recalling these events, the IFS says in 1990 "the perceived unfairness of the tax was associated with non-compliance on a scale rarely seen in the UK".

However, the new scheme replicates some of the worst aspects of the poll tax. "These policies mean that all households, even those on the lowest incomes, would have to pay some council tax. The poll tax experience showed how difficult it can be to collect small amounts of tax from low-income households that are not used to paying it," they say, noting that the poll tax was "quickly replaced".

The proposed scheme also risks "severely undermining" the government's flagship universal credit scheme, which will replace six of the seven main means-tested benefits and tax credits for those of working age with a single benefit. However, the seventh means-tested benefit will be "localised".

James Browne, a senior research economist at the IFS and one of the authors of the report, said: "Cutting support for council tax and localising it are two distinct policy choices: either could have been done without the other. Whether you think that cutting council tax support for low-income families is the best way to reduce government borrowing by £500m will depend on your views about how much redistribution the state ought to do.

"But the advantages of localisation seem to be outweighed by the disadvantages, particularly as it has the potential to undermine many of the positive impacts of universal credit."

A version of this report was first published at The Guardian