In March another assault was launched on the ‘lost generation’. It was announced that the minimum wage for under-21s was to be frozen. With youth unemployment already exceeding 20% this news added considerable insult to injury.
Social mobility has not improved in this country since the 1970s; in fact it’s getting worse. Is it any wonder when every choice facing young people these days comes with considerable financial upheaval and strain? You could take the option of university, and pay £9000 a year for the privilege, or take up a job in which you stand to be remunerated with poverty pay.
Those of a conservative disposition argue that young people should be “doing the right thing”, ie marrying, working, saving, but on £4.98 an hour, those things just aren’t within reach. Aside from the tangible economic factors, what will this mean for the ontological wellbeing of our country’s young people?
Most already feel the marginalising effects of being vilified by the media, but to be told that your labour is worth this little can only be degrading; and will hardly engender a feeling of belonging to the wider community. This is emphasised by the fact that the adult minimum wage will be raised, albeit only by 11p, sending out the message that young workers just aren’t as valuable and that their wellbeing is expendable in the quest to offer cheap labour.
Of course, these decisions are coming from a cabinet of millionaires and a generation who got their university tuition for free. The opportunities that allowed them to get to the position they’re in are a distant dream for the majority of young people. People whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to the most renowned private schools, leading straight to the elite universities; who couldn’t afford to support themselves during an unpaid internship; whose family members don’t have the connections required to get the best positions. When we all start on such an uneven playing field, can we really still believe that all you need to get to the top is grit and determination?
Along with cuts to EMA and the raising of tuition fees, Britain’s youth are having their opportunities prised away from them; and then politicians pontificate about how best to sanction the country’s unruly young people. No wonder the so-called lost generation is losing faith in politics; it certainly isn’t showing any faith in them.
Lisa Camps is Chair of the University of York Green Party
Lisa Camps, Young Greens Campaigns Officer
In 2009, one book shifted the perspective on social issues, and the determination of the right to disprove its findings has, of course, confirmed their validity beyond any doubt. I refer to ‘The Spirit Level’, an incisive and far-reaching look into the social impact of economic inequality that has led to a paradigm shift in the numerous debates that surround prevalent social debates.
Until now, the left seem to have been dragging their feet on putting this illuminating research into practice. However, the Young Greens are soon to officially launch a campaign with The Spirit Level’s principles at its heart. The ‘Fair Pay Campus’ campaign aims to reduce the widening pay-gaps in higher education, which have crept up to an average of 15:1; the broadest gap in the entire public sector. Campaigners believe that, by gradually scaling back this disparity to a 10:1 ratio, the result would be a huge step in the direction towards greater social equality.
At my own university, the Vice-Chancellor has recently announced plans to step down in the coming year; wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to scale back his inordinate salary, especially as the next influx of students will be paying £9000 a year and expecting some serious bang for their buck. Of course, arguments will persist that the human capital involved in the job merits a £250,000 salary, but if a potential VC is so unblinkingly motivated by money that they wouldn’t settle for anything less than a quarter of a million salary; you wouldn’t be blamed for questioning their suitability for the role.
Just as much a part of the fabric of our universities are the caterers, the grounds-keepers, the cleaners; without whom our enjoyment of the higher education experience would be markedly diminished. These jobs come with challenges of their own, as many students whose toilets have been cleaned the morning after a party will know. Of course, it’s argued that the varying degrees of responsibility involved in these roles compared to that of senior management justifies a disparity in pay; but surely fifteen times more is just gratuitous and irresponsible, and undermines the value of those other jobs vital to the running of the university.
Only recently, the head of Aviva was forced to stand down after a ‘share-holder revolt’ that saw his exorbitant and ill-deserved pay packet rejected. The public appetite for remunerative equality is growing and during a double-dip recession, it makes sense. With wages that offered more than just a basic standard of living, the resultant increase in consumer spending could be just the stimulus that our stagnant economy needs.
At the national launch event of the campaign, the Young Greens will be joined by guest speaker Richard Wilkinson, co-author of ‘The Spirit Level’, who proudly advocates a reduction in pay gaps and greater democracy in determining high-level salaries. His support for the campaign underlines the potential significance of its aims, and students at universities up and down the country are already preparing to bring the campaign to their own campuses. A difficult challenge lies ahead of the Young Greens, but the victory for the left were they to succeed could be tremendous, and would cause a revolutionary change in attitude towards what is acceptable in determining top salaries in both the public and private sectors.
Councillor Sam Hollick
Last Thursday I was elected as Oxford City Councillor for Holywell ward in the face of large swings to Labour both nationally and locally. I now represent a ward that is over 90% students, bringing back a Green councillor to a part of the city that has been Lib Dem for the last 4 years.
Holywell, and the neighbouring Carfax ward, cover the majority of Oxford colleges as well as a few hundred non-student residents. These are challenging wards, due both to the large change in voting population as students graduate each year, and the fact that the closed nature of Oxford colleges means that knocking on doors is pretty much out of the question. So Adam Ramsay (candidate for Carfax) and I ran a joint campaign. Adam’s experience in running successful student union election campaigns was invaluable in helping decide the tactics of the campaign, and there is no way I’d have won without him. Through a combination of leafleting the university mailing system, canvassing at student ‘hot-spots’ in the street (Oxford frustratingly lacks an SU building!), social media adverts and lecture announcements, we were able spread the message that Greens could win. And I did.
Our policy platform was distinctly left wing – from taxing luxury hotels to replace the Education Maintenance Allowance, to creating a £500,000 fund for investing in jobs in the city. This was in stark contrast to the Labour’s platform of we-run-the-city-at-the-moment-and-do-a-jolly-good-job, with their leaflets reading along the lines of ‘how to vote Labour’ rather than ‘why vote Labour’. Labour are wrong to interpret their success last week to them winning the argument when so few people actually voted. What’s worse is that they didn’t use the opportunity to review their position on the clearly unpopular cuts. Oxford Labour are a particularly complacent local party, who rely on the votes of the working class while failing to use their majority control of the council to oppose cuts, instead they make staff redundant unnecessarily and start charging for local services. This is why I was so frustrated when, despite running a much more energetic campaign than Labour, Adam narrowly came second to Labour in Carfax.
This is where the work starts, for me as a councillor, but also for the party both here in Oxford and nationally. On the popular vote Greens are now second across the city, so we need to use this position to really challenge Labour by making the case against austerity, by actively working with those affected by cuts to services, and by working to represent the disenfranchised and ignored wherever they live in the city. And I believe that a lot of these lessons apply nationally too. We should be using every chance we get to make the case against austerity and for our economic alternative. The more Labour continues to fail to oppose the government’s attacks on society and the economy, the more important the work we do is.
Like many people, I’ve made a commitment to stop flying. Yet as I write I am sitting in a cafe in Bethlehem, in the occupied Palestinian territories, a long very way from the house on the Isle of Wight I call home.
I’m here working as a human rights witness with the Ecumenical Accompanier Programme in Palestine and Israeli (EAPPI). My work here involves monitoring checkpoints, supporting Israeli and Palestinian activists in their nonviolent actions, providing protective presence to vulnerable communities, and reporting abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law. EAPPI is an initiative run by the World Council of Churches, who ten years ago responded to a call from church leaders in Jerusalem, asking for a force of international observers to come to the West Bank and witness the impacts of the Israeli occupation.
It is World Water Day today, and in the sweltering heat I am pondering the difference in access to water between some Palestinian communities I have visited, and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that in occupied territories (such as the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967) “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Yet there are 500,000 Israeli citizens living in settlement blocs around the West Bank.
According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, there is a significant disparity between water consumption of Israeli settlements, and that available to Palestinians living in some areas of the West Bank. They give the example of the average daily per capita water consumption of the 396 settlers living in Pnei Hever, in Hebron District (194 litres), compared to the figure for the 70,000 Palestinians living in the eight kilometers away in the town of Yatta (27 litres).
It’s not just the water usage that reveals the differences between these two examples of community. In the village of Wadi Fukin, a village of around 1000 people, sewerage from the nearby settlement of Beitar Illit regularly flows on to farmlands around the village. It streams over the olive and fruit trees owned by the villagers – have a look at a video here (4 minutes in). Much of Beitar Illit is built on land confiscated from these same Palestinian farmers, to build the settlement.
Sometimes the waste water is treated, sometimes it is not. But either way, word soon gets round. In a meeting with Mahmoud from the Red Cross this morning, I heard that shoppers have started to enquire about the provenance of the produce before buying: “When you see someone sitting on the side of the road in Bethlehem selling fruit and vegetables, people will not just buy, they ask first, where is this from?” If the answer is one of the villages rumoured to have problem with settlement sewerage, “people say, ‘No thank you’. They cannot sell anything”.
Yet there is also good news to be heard here. Because of the lack of employment opportunities, some Palestinians take work just over the border in Israel, often in construction. One of the towns they’ve worked in is Tzur Hadassah. Whilst building the houses of these Israelis, some friendships sprung up. Now, the residents of Tzur Hadassah visit Wadi Fukin on a monthly basis, sometimes buying their crops. They have also complained to the Israeli authorities about the sewerage problem from Beitar Illit. It had little impact, but Adel, a member of Wadi Fukin’s village council, told me he appreciated their efforts, “even though it didn’t make any difference”.
A significant part of my work with EAPPI is advocacy. Whilst I’m here and when I get home, it’s my job to tell people what I am witnessing – the general public, church leaders, decision-makers and the media – so that they may in turn lobby their representatives to end the occupation, and build a just peace in Israel/Palestine, based on respect for international law and the implementation of UN resolutions. I feel this is some of the most valuable work we do, and it will mostly happen when I get home, from the comfort of my living room with my laptop. But it could not happen unless I had first come here in person, and witnessed these things.
I felt rubbish approaching Heathrow a month ago, and many climate justice activist friends will tell me I didn’t make the right choice. However the dilemma of whether to prioritize environmental concerns over responding to calls for an international, nonviolent, protective presence here (and indeed in other areas) won’t be going away in a hurry. Perhaps I better stop calling my commitment to stop flying a ‘promise’, and start calling it an aspiration to which I sadly don’t always live up to, for good reasons.
Hannah Brock is serving for three months with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.
By Alfie van den Bos
One of the many ways to judge a modern society is via its media, be it newspapers, television or even the internet. For instance totalitarian societies have always had illiberal approaches to expression and thus the Soviet and Nazi publications, though promoting different ideals, were greatly akin in how they suppressed alternate fashions of opinion and maintained a dull oneness in practically every realm of information. In contrast, the USA, founded by classical liberals, has always enjoyed one of the most heterogeneous appetites for opinion within its media, in line with its love of democracy, with over 500,000 elected posts nationwide. A nation’s media, as a pool of ideas and opinions, can thus be seen to reflect, at least partially, the values and norms of the citizens that interact with it. Therefore, it seems that the ongoing débâcle concerning the alleged misdeeds of certain News International journalists is but a microcosm of a wider malaise that raises crucial questions about the very state of our media as a whole, including all newspaper owners, if not the nation itself. Beyond debates over what constitutes correct media practice and ethical standards, one feels that the ways we perceive information, along with the philosophies that guide such attitudes are rendered increasingly uncertain. When we look into the by now muddied puddle of tabloid or red-top journalism, the pride of our intellects is drowned in the stark realisation that we can only see ourselves.
Of course the individuals in question deserve blame, if proved guilty of wrongdoing, but more widely, I cannot escape the thought that everyone is somehow linked to this concoction of immorality welling up from the corridors of power, that have essentially been found for many years, not in Westminster or Whitehall but in Wapping. Indeed these problems relate to both the irregular methodology of selected journalists at the sacrificed News of the World and the general approach to reportage adopted by the Murdoch Empire, as well as the excess concentrations of political capital and power in the hands of the News International cabal.
The reason I feel this is an issue that affects everyone is that which I argued in the opening paragraph, media is reflective of social values regardless of how much we may wish to blind ourselves to these reflections. All UK newspapers are private enterprises, as should be in a democracy, and so all have to sell themselves by appealing to the popular interest of their targeted audience. Ergo one cannot purely show disdain towards the irregular lengths some tabloids will go to acquire stories on public figures and celebrities, as they are merely surviving the fickle waves of the economy by publishing what the average Briton is interested in; tits, gossip, reality shows etc. As the national majority becomes more and more addicted to this type of news its sources dry up, as public figures close off their private lives, yet the continual demand pressurises these publications to seek increasingly questionable solutions. No doubt that some of those mourning Princess Diana’s death would have been the ones devouring pictures of her, had she survived and the press photographers got their images. Consequently the solution to this must lie not in external regulation of the media, which would be detrimental when combined with our outdated libel laws, but a new-found maturity in terms of the information we seek to consume. I am not saying that I know what information people should consume, but that if we our discontented with the current state of affairs, as recent outrage suggests most people are, the pursuit of resolution solely against the press, would be an exercise in mass hypocrisy and vanity.
We can also see links between the descent of tabloid writing and the slow creep of power into the arsenal of ‘Murdocracy’. The national obsession with celebrity and gossip stories masked a political ignorance. Obviously, not everyone finds politics interesting, but in a successful democracy, a minimum of political awareness, far above that, in my opinion, of the average UK citizen, is required. It is no coincidence, for example, that only the more elitist Guardian newspaper has given the News International scandals the attention they deserve or that the issue of super-injunctions as an affront to liberty were not popularised by the affairs of Carter Ruck and Trafigura but the affair of a famous footballer. As a result as a nation we are collectively numbed to politics, especially as the newspaper barons, eager to promote a pro-business electoral ideology try to portray politics as an irrelevant and corrupt art, as well as hindering the progress selected by the Murdochs of this world. Such an opinion is correct in many ways but one must contest the idea that all politics is malign and that the way of the economic weathermen is the only alternative. Haplessly, politicians were forced to see the views of the popular press and the electorate as one and the same and governed to suit the News International agenda. But mere months ago, the Labour leadership, now trying to champion themselves as the noble knights to slay the Murdoch dragon, chose to attack Vince Cable for daring to even consider clipping its wings.
In this way tabloid rulers shifted the political agenda not to the left or the right but to themselves. By this I mean that they supported policy to further their own ends, on a selfish basis rather than for ideological or technocratic reasons, so that it is regardless what political doctrine such policy is usually associated with, because ultimately political classifications should be based on ends not means. It is grossly wrong and childish for us to say that the tabloids somehow deceived people into voting for the ‘wrong’ party. Nonetheless, the scarce amounts of political coverage in the News International tabloids and similar examples, were highly selective. I shall not offend the general electorate by doubting their capacity to decide who to vote for, but rather the bias atmospheres in which many voters made these decisions. People can control what they think, but the media, increasingly, controls what we think about, and he who chooses the battlefield often wins the day.
A vicious circle forms where public disregard for politics feeds the growth of political power for certain media oligarchs, who in turn encourage said apathy. The steely irony here is thus; the readers who care least for politics indirectly affect it to a much greater extent than the keener spectators.
As the next generation we must, all of us, revive a wider interest in politics and a diversity of opinion. And as Young Greens, we enjoy a radical heritage that makes us best placed to do so. In this way our democracy will be enriched as opinions are given a wider basis, and Britain can enter a Spring of superior compromise and consensus.