Post-Truth, Post-Growth, Post-care?

 

growrthMuch has been talked and written about our ‘post’ society in 2016, although the Annus Horribilis descriptor maybe up for debate. It depends on your perspective.  For me 2016 had the usual mixture of good and bad.  If 2016 turns out to be a catalyst for people engaging in politics, then there’s a lot to be said for it.

I’m not a trend watcher or an economist, but I can see that we need a new economics: a paradigm shift, not only in the way we do business, but in the way we live.

The so called ‘trickle-down’ economics has turned out to be a surge-up economics where the wealth of the country ends up in the hands of an elite few – who are already very wealthy – whilst the rest of us bear the brunt of ‘Austerity’ and debt.  Politicians seem to be too scared to address the big issues and don’t have the answers or the money to tackle them anyway.  With so many people homeless, in poverty, unemployed or struggling to support their families with low paid and insecure jobs the focus of a majority is on day-to-day living – it has to be. And it should be the focus of politicians and the rest of society too.  Such inequity is unjust and unviable, and has lead in large part to the results we’ve seen in 2016 in Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

One way to get power back into our communities is to wrest it from conglomerates and corporations: to put the pound back into our own pockets rather than the coffers of remote shareholders.  The ‘Transition Town’ model is one way of doing this.  Initially a movement bringing communities together to tackle the ‘peak oil’ crisis and Climate Change, it has proved to be an excellent model for getting things done and effecting change on a local level.  Transition Brixton has its own power company, other groups have tackled the lack of affordable fresh food and introduced local currencies that encourage people to spend money in the local economy creating social enterprise and apprenticeships.

If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that politicians cannot be relied upon to do the right thing, and are often powerless to get things done, but we have that power.  It doesn’t need legislation or Government funding – although that would be nice – it simply needs people with a common aim to come together and do something.  It’s a simple idea yet it has the power to change communities and create thriving local economies.

We may be post-growth in the traditional sense, but Transition Town initiatives are proving that sustainable growth is possible.  If we work within the boundaries of our ever-decreasing natural resources and learn new mechanisms for producing what people need (rather than an unbounded consumerism, where manufacturing is outsourced to others) we call forth creativity and cement communities.  It is not some unrealistic ideal.  It’s happening now, probably somewhere near you.  It proves that people care about each other and about the natural world and it demonstrates in a tangible way what we can achieve regardless of who’s in power.

 

‘Peak Oil’ is the point in time when the maximum rate of crude oil extraction is reached, after which the rate of extraction is expected to begin to decline

‘Climate Change’ is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures, caused by human activity.

Find out about the Transition network, and any projects near you here:  https://transitionnetwork.org/

Also contains resources for setting up your own Transition Town initiative.

Read Rob Hopkins ‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff – how local action can change the world‘ for a concise and uplifting look at Transition in action.

 

John Lewis Vs Donald Trump

dt

John Lewis thought that I would be delighted that they had emailed me their new Christmas Advert and friends are sharing it over on Facebook to cheer people up.  I may be a party-pooper, but there is something fundamentally depressing about a supermarket advertising Christmas in November, and something that gives me equal disquiet when people think that this will make everything OK again, after the horrors of the USA elections.

I know I’m being over-critical and over-cynical, but part of me wants to shout out that we don’t need diversions and distractions.  We need to face head on what is happening in the world.  We need to be eyes-wide-open to confront the fear and shock and revulsion.

I don’t know what we can do about things – students have been protesting, social media is buzzing – but there will be something.  We have to work out what went wrong.  We have to find radical solutions to deliver political engagement and power to the 50% of people who feel side-lined by our elitist institutions.  We have to.  It is not optional.

Maybe people are too raw to lick their wounds and get back into the battle-field; maybe we didn’t realise that the values we’ve held dear are under siege and we’re needing to fight. Perhaps a bit of saccharine sweetness, a bit of humour, a bit of respite is what we need for now.  But we mustn’t let it become an avoidance behaviour: something that diverts us from the difficult things that need to be done.  Ultimately that will cause more stress, worry and fear. We need to talk about our fears and address them.  This is the only way to move forwards positively.

Once the shock has worn off a bit, and we have got ourselves together, we will do what we always do: pick up the pieces and carry on.  We will find love and hope and purpose all over again.

And maybe I’ll watch the John Lewis ad’.  But not until December!

 

Adrift

BrexitWhen I heard the result I was devastated.  That’s not an understatement.  I literally felt sick in the pit of my stomach.  I cried.  Loss and grief broke over me.

I’ve never been one to shy away from change.  I voted remain for positive reasons.  I believe being part of Europe is the only way to protect the environment and ultimately the future – for our children and grandchildren and for the world. I believe we can only exert positive influence from within. There have been others way more eloquent than I who have put forward coherent arguments for why we should have voted to stay. There’s been a lot of scaremongering on both sides of the divide. People who were ‘in’s’ have been labelled unpatriotic and ‘outs’ have been called racist and xenophobic.  Many people voted for what they believed was best for the UK.  What they thought was best for our future.  Of course there are always people who vote for less positive reasons, and many who don’t vote at all.  The turnout was high, but not staggering, and it is telling that less than 40% of under 30’s voted.

What saddens me is the obvious rifts that exist: between old and young, between political parties, between ideologies, between different parts of society, between different parts of the UK.  These were the issues that needed addressing before the referendum and these are the issues which will need addressing long after the dust has settled.  Why people who fought for freedom and independence feel de-valued and lost; why young people feel dis-inherited of the future; why certain areas of society feel fearful for their jobs and homes; why immigrants have become the scapegoats for many of our internal problems.

A good and wise friend said that the sun still rises and sets and life goes on, or words to that effect, and of course that is entirely true.  Life will go on.  We will get up tomorrow and the day after, and the world will still be here. We will take steps as a country to work out how we extricate ourselves from a union which has existed for 40 years, which for all its faults, foibles and bureaucracy delivered tangible benefits to members, including the freedom to live, work and love in any of the member states. We will still be a little island in a big-wide-world and I for one will feel a little less anchored, a little less secure, and certainly a lot more isolated.

 

 

“Not the Answer…

not the answerThis statement appeared on the day of the budget in my Twitter feed.  The person tweeting was referring to the ‘Sugar Tax’.  There was heated debated about how futile it was, or what a good idea, or how it was taking the heat off other more important issues (are there many more important things than our children’s health and well-being?)

I got a bit foot-stompy and this blog is the result.  Well, no, of course it isn’t ‘the’ answer, or not the whole answer anyway.  No one is that naïve, not Jamie Oliver, not the general public, the nutritionists not even the politicians who approved it.  But here’s the thing, maybe things are so bad, with our own health, our children’s health and the health of our environment, that there is no single big ass solution – maybe there never was. Big ideas, high level strategic solutions are for governments and world organisations.  As people, we identify with the practical; what’s meaningful for us.  We feel irritated and overwhelmed by policy, policing and projects.  Most of us I suspect want to engage, but when the message is: ‘you must do this’ or ‘you can’t do that’ – negative dictates from above – we feel quite the opposite: disengaged, disenfranchised, and if you’re me, down right rebellious.

We long to be inspired by a vision of something we can achieve, something positive.  The carrot being infinitely better than the boot (to mix metaphors). We need to see results of the steps we’re taking and to take them one at a time, each one leading inexorably to the next until we’re on that journey towards making a difference. Thankfully there are trail blazers, eco warriors, impressive environmentalists and campaigners for the health of the planet and the health of the human race. And we need them to inspire and encourage us to take action.

However, there are people who struggle to survive now, people in this country who have to work out where the next pay packet, the next meal, the school books, the bus fare, the money for the electricity is coming from, and people in other places in the world who are far worse off than that.  It’s not always a lack of care that stops us from taking action as much as a sense of priority.  Ironically it is the people least able to take action that poor health and climate change impact first, and to a greater degree.

No one wants to see the earth burn; no one wants their children to be morbidly obese and unfit.  We have to deal with challenges at all levels: personal, societal and political to start making a difference to anything.

So, no, the sugar tax won’t cure childhood obesity, but it has raised awareness of the issues involved, it has raised the political profile of an insidious, damaging and costly epidemic.  There is much more to be done to rescue a generation of children from bad sugar and bad advertising, and a great deal more to be done to save the world for them.

And we all have a part to play.  We are all part of the jigsaw which will give us the panoply of answers required.

The Plan – Jamie Oliver https://www.jamieoliver.com/theplan/

 

On The Street in Edinburgh

how-to-help-homeless-peopleThey’ve become an homogenised, almost sub-human, element of our society.  A ubiquitous sight in most major cities and yet we fail to see them.  If they do register in our consciousness we ignore them.  Mostly.  Some of us complain.  Some drop a few coins without making eye contact.  Yes, I’m talking people who ‘live’ on our streets.  The homeless.  How did we come to be a society that could ignore ‘Homeless and hungry. Please help’, walking by without a thought or care?

Homeless people need better press.  Someone needs to do a marketing job so that we take some notice. They’re not cute enough or desperate enough.  I am willing to believe that familiarity breeds contempt, that a lot of us do care, but feel helpless: what can one person do to make a difference?  I am willing to be generous about my fellow humans because I don’t have the answers, though neither do I feel I can ignore a fellow human being in need.  So, I want to remind you, to remind me, that this is what the people you see –  and don’t see – on the street are: fellow human beings with history, with stories, with names.

I was chatting to Tommy the other day in Edinburgh (let’s call him that, he was too ashamed to tell me his name).  He doesn’t drink or smoke or take drugs.  He was made homeless by the council when his sister – whose home he was living in after job loss and marriage break down – died of cancer last November.  He wasn’t the tenant so he was unable to live there, even though he had no other family, no home, no job.  He was made homeless and has lived on the streets since.  He can’t claim benefits as he is ‘of no fixed abode’.  He goes from day to day with little hope of a better life, trying to survive because he wants to see his kids.

Tommy’s dad was in the army and Tommy was dragged about the place.  His education was disrupted and his literacy skills are poor. (This is surprisingly common in military families.  I taught literacy skills back in the 90’s). It was hard for Tommy to get a decent job.  After one tour his dad didn’t come home, so his mum had to leave the army accommodation and take him and his sister to a refuge.  Eventually they were re-housed by the council.  Tommy left school as soon as he could and took a job to help the family pay the bills.  He was 15.  The job was low paid and without benefits or security.

Tommy did the best he could with the resources he had.  His mum died in her 40’s and Tommy and his sister made their own lives with their own families.  In 2014 Tommy was made redundant and not long after his relationship broke down.  He found himself on the street with nothing. His sister, now a widow, took him in, but after she died he was homeless yet again.

Tommy doesn’t complain about being homeless or about the unfairness of his life.  He complained about it being a ‘bit nippy’.  He was upset that he wouldn’t get to see his kids this week as he didn’t have the bus fare.  He hates it when he does see his kids because he’s ashamed of himself.

I asked Tommy about homeless shelters and he told me that he stayed in one over Christmas and New Year, but it shut in January.  He told me his stuff got stolen.  I don’t think he was making up his story.  There are thousands of people like Tommy with similar stories to tell.

A contemporary of my stepson came home one day to find his belongings on the front lawn and the lock changed on the door courtesy of his step-father.  It was his 18th birthday present.  In young people’s homeless hostels up and down the country there are similar stories.  Young people are often forced to leave home when a parent takes a new partner or re-marries and the new partner makes it clear the young person, the son or daughter, is not wanted, or worse.  When young people leave the care system the state no longer has a responsibility for them and some of them become homeless.  They don’t have families, or if they do they’re not fit to look after them, and they drop through the cracks and out of the system. 140,000 young people run away each year and a percentage of these end up homeless in cities up and down the UK.  They’re not the only ones: ex-military personnel, people with mental illness, people whose relationships fall apart, people who lose their jobs.  The spiral to the gutter can happen surprisingly rapidly.  And without an address you are nobody.  You can’t claim any state help, you can’t see a GP.

There are alcoholics and drug users on our streets, although which comes first may be a moot point, but no one choses to sit on a busy street on a bit of cardboard and beg.  People sit with their signs and their hats – and yes, sometimes their dogs – because they have no other choices left.  Any number of circumstances can mean that you slip through the net.  When I left my husband, had I not had friends and family who could put me up, I would have been homeless.  It’s scary how easily it can happen in a so called civilised society.

I didn’t give Tommy any money that day.  I gave him some food and a hot drink and a few minutes of my time.  He was grateful, more than anything, that someone had stopped to talk to him.  You may tell me it doesn’t make any difference.  He’s still on the street today and probably will be tomorrow.  And you’re  right of course, but for 10 minutes he felt human again; connected, like someone gave a damn.  I didn’t ignore him, and walk by.  I stopped and acknowledged that he existed and listened to his story.

I’m sure there are plenty of us who care, who feel impotent in the face of such seeming hopelessness.  If enough people care enough to feel indignant about this, for the right reasons, then surely something could happen to change things, to give people a helping hand, a foot on the ladder back into society.

There are charities that do things in some places.  There was a recent TV programme which raised awareness of the plight of ex-services personnel, so maybe there will be a ground swell of public goodwill which will turn this tragedy of wasted lives around.

If you don’t feel you can do anything, if you can’t bring yourself to give money, perhaps you can spare a few minutes of your time to have a conversation with a homeless person, share your common humanity and give someone some hope, make them feel that they are worth your time and are not dross, not nothing, if only for a moment.

If enough people chose to do something small, it can amount to something big.

 

Let’s End Homeslessness Together  https://www.homeless.org.uk/facts-figures