Monday, 29 November 2010

First published on the Oxfam blog here.

It is the year 2060, I am 72, and I hate to say I told you so.

London is underwater, like Bangkok, Cairo and Shanghai. Venice too, but that was a given, and whole countries, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

World population is said to have peaked, at 9 billion, coinciding with the 4C temperature increase that has drowned whole swathes of continents and scorched others.

Just as in the century preceding it, 2060 has produced winners and losers.

People are starving.


In 2010, I attended the Independent Live climate change debate ahead of the United Nations meeting in Cancun.

Sponsored by Shell and Channel 4, the fate of any progress on international legislation was unhelpfully sealed by our Chair in his opening riposte.

“It is accepted that no agreements will be made in Cancun,” Mike McCarthy, Independent environment editor said.

Political will

I spoke to him afterwards, and he said a point reiterated in the inewspaper, launched only a month earlier: “The Chinese made it crystal clear at Copenhagen that they were absolutely unwilling to be legally bound with regard to emissions.”

He added: “As for the US, Mr Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent last year was predicated on the US Congress agreeing.

“Since the triumph of the Republicans in the mid-term elections, that agreement and the legislation that would result are dead in the water.”

I pressed him, asking if the matter was so urgent, life and death, couldn’t we, the UK, the West make the first move, leave the Chinese behind for now if we had to?


During the debate, they spoke of the technology being ready, but for the political will.

Public will

An impassioned member of the audience stood and said: “the public will is there, we are ready, we need your direction.”

And so we left it, all in agreement, but without dynamic leaders, with little conviction.

MARGJIN, a coalition of charities staged the picture of David Cameron and Barack Obama with the world in their hands in Liverpool.

If only these men had convinced others of the urgency.

Written will

For a fantastic comment on how the left of the media feels about Cancun, check out Johann Hari of the Independent, buried inside the newspaper like much of the coverage of the most destructive issue facing our generation.

Is it irresponsible to leave the decisions down to government, to passively report, when so many lives are at risk?

Young people in Canada are frightened.

Liverpool Oxfam society is hosting an event called ‘1.4 Billion Reasons’ on Monday from 7-9pm in the University Lecture Rooms Building about all the people already living in extreme poverty.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

It's not about equality, it's about fairness

On Sunday I caught up with The Apprentice, which I regrettably missed, but was instead at the Independent Live climate change debate.

Sponsored by Shell and Channel 4, the fate of any progress on legislation at the next UN meeting in Mexico was unhelpfully sealed by our Chair in his opening riposte.

“It is accepted that no agreements will be made in Cancun,” Mike McCarthy, Independent environment editor said.


On the X-Factor, Wagner was reprimanded for saying that Cheryl Cole gives hope to people from council estates.

No doubt she is a role model, if a ‘better life’ is questionable singing and having your every move theorised.

But in our free and fair democracy, it shouldn’t take a TV show to give the public hope.


Ahead of the Government white paper on education, we knew that education maintenance allowance for all but the most disadvantaged young people was being scrapped, along with funding of Connexions advice service, AimHigher and school sports.

A nation-wide protest by students yesterday followed an initial demonstration in London.

While debates about student fees are necessary- surely a tripling of fees can only be justified by a tripling in the quality of education- graduate tax or fees hike, the same people are still shut out of higher education.

Of 300,000 young people who got three new A* A levels this year, just 149 of them, 0.05 per cent, were eligible for free school meals.

Some children are two years behind their peers when they get to school, not toilet-trained or able to speak, and many never catch up.


It is hard not to notice that those with ‘top jobs’ attended a few elite institutions.

Stephanie Flanders, BBC economics editor was in a tutorial group with Yvette Cooper, our foreign secretary, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford.

Both went on to the Financial Times, where both, according to the Daily Mail had a relationship with Ed Balls. Who too studied PPE.

Ms Flanders is also said to have had a fling with Ed Milliband, who, you guessed it, went to Oxford to study PPE.

Do we all really want a 24-hour life where your dirty laundry is aired for all of middle-England to see?

As long as everyone has the chance to get to Oxbridge if they want to, then there isn’t a problem- just as David Milliband might have enjoyed working as a librarian.

University or education?

The words ‘university’ and ‘education’ have become synonymous, interchangeable and this is devaluing the alternatives. Polytechnics taught different skills from universities, just like apprenticeships, entrepreneurialism and practical college courses. While the degree too is worth less as more institutions offer them without rigorous academia.

Our slip in international league tables, and the coalition’s new commitments to core subjects and improved teaching outlined yesterday show the extension of higher education hasn’t actually improved outcomes.

Some courses are a money-making scheme, ‘attractive sounding’, and many graduates end up, at least in the short term, working in unskilled jobs.

The words ‘fund my future’ were scrawled lazily on student banners at Demo2010, but if people are led, with ignorance, into degrees that aren't good enough, other people won't pay for them.

Equal or fair?

Theresa May has decided not to legislate on equality, favouring a voluntary commitment (?) from public bodies to promote equality. Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome, highlighting ‘fairness’ over ‘equality’.

Who couldn’t favour equality of opportunity? We don’t need a workforce of professionals or semi-skilled labourers, lots of ice-cream men or brain surgeons, people achieving the same outcomes, we need lots of things.

A silent majority, however, has their future compromised long before. Their fate sealed not when they come home without a raft of ‘top grades’ at GCSE and A-level, but maybe even, when they are toddling na├»vely to their new drawer.

Sustainable future

Ahead of the UN climate change conference in Cancun, despite evidence released daily that our emissions will lead to a climate disaster with people in the developing world already suffering, we are waltzing into oblivion anyway.

If everyone is allowed to go on a ‘journey’, university without regard for the usefulness of the degree at the end of it, we will slip further, and not produce the scientists needed to address and communicate the world’s increasingly complex problems.

And if we continue to wee all over the issues: ‘we want this’, ‘we want that’, then a sustainable world is not the only challenge we won’t be facing. There will be a real lost generation of undereducated, isolated and angry people- without banners, and warm homes to go to, but far worse.

Life is unfair, but it is more unfair for some people than others.

Photo is a Texas fair from stevenm_61 on Flick at

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

EDL in Preston

There was a strange feeling on the train, jubilant and alcohol-fueled, that we just couldn't put our finger on. And then we remembered. The EDL were in Preston. When we go to the station we were surprised, annoyed even, to see them lighting up within the building. I asked the police why they weren't doing anything about it, but they said it was the least of their worries. Oh.. right.

We were even more shocked, however, when we saw them being led outside to buses waiting for them to be taken to the start of their protest. Is this not something of an endorsement?

Toilets had been set-up to prevent any little accidents on public property, and the only arrests made were of EDL supporters,for being drunk and disorderly.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ahmadinejad proposes 2011 as the year of nuclear disarmament and invites scholars to Iranian conference on terrorism

Super villain Mahmoud Amadinejad, President of Iran took to the stage at the UN summit in New York - but what did we hear?

The US delegation walked out. European countries followed.

Newspapers heard ‘9/11 was an inside job’- the easy headline, and the news desk knock off early.

“He would say that,” we all agree, and duly switch off.

The US and UK pride themselves on freedom of speech. I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

So why do we all ignore him so compliantly?

Ahmadinejad outlined some concerns, “family crises, security... world economy, climate change... the aspiration for justice and lasting peace”, concerns like any Western leader.


On nuclear proliferation, a sore topic, he says nuclear energy would give Iran a cleaner and cheaper alternative to fossil fuels.

Although allowed under the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) he argues the Security Council “have equated nuclear energy with the nuclear bomb, and have distanced this energy from the reach of most nations”.

While at the same time these members expand their arsenals despite the NPT prohibiting stockpiling of arms and calling for disarmament.


Like 9/, a non-profit whose views Time Magazine called “a mainstream political reality”, Ahmadinejad asked for a UN inquiry into 9/11.

He queried why one wasn’t done immediately and then according to the outcome, measures could be taken against the wrongdoer.

Where one turns off, and how the media summed up the speech was with his claim that most people agree that 9/11 was orchestrated by the government, to invigorate America’s economy and strengthen Israel.

Another viewpoint he says, advocated by American statesmen is that a sophisticated terror network executed the attacks.

It is undeniably this that most people believe.

In light of that, he questioned the rationale of a “classic war” that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths if it is not a classic threat.

A chance?

Look back at the title of this blog, these are words taken from Ahmadinejad’s speech.

He offered to hold a conference in Tehran next year about terrorism and how to confront it and proposed that 2011 should be the year of nuclear disarmament.

Why don’t we jump at the chance to get a Muslim insight into motivations for terrorism? And why shouldn’t 2011 be the year of nuclear disarmament?

"Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none" he said.

Let’s take up his offers, and then if he falters, we can with authority do what many people do as soon as he starts to speak.

Dying for a cuppa?

I was not surprised that our flat-capped ‘friends’ at Tetleys, whose parent company Tata have been accused of human rights violations relating to a factory death, have ‘distanced themselves’ from blame.

Like BP over the summer, someone else was making the calls, none of the tea made in this factory tainted British tea cups.

Just so long as nobody’s blood went into my drink, carry on.

For what I’m sure is monotonous work, and the death from suspected poisoning confirms it is dangerous, workers only get paid 8p a day.

And I suppose the company did not know this either.

Two more workers died during subsequent protests.

Names we should be proud of exploit labour to keep prices low in the UK, while keeping their hands far enough away that if anything happens, “we didn’t know anything about it”.

Who are the real terrorists?

For the full text of Ahmadinejad’s speech, with more of his interesting assessments of the world de facto go to

Friday, 17 September 2010

Behind every world leader is a mum. Mums matter.

First published for Oxfam at

Hasina Begum, 35, stands in the river which took her home, Char Atra, Bangladesh.
Hasina Begum, 35, stands in the river which took her home, Char Atra, Bangladesh.

Not enough money to feed your children. Fear, uncertainty, loneliness.

“It is women who suffer”, she said.

This is not an advert for a development charity, but Gail Cartmail of Unite union talking about how government cuts here will affect people.

Disproportionately the poor, in particular women, mothers.

Despite us all owing our lives to them, world leaders are forgetting mothers, daughters, girls, still, across the globe.

A thousand women die from pregnancy complications each day, for every woman who dies, 30 more suffer chronic illness or disability.

Preventable deaths

Ten years ago our leaders pledged to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015, with eight Millennium Development Goals.

At the MDG summit in New York next week, it is the fifth and worst performing goal, to improve maternal health, that international charities are pushing.

Although more than 90 per cent of maternal deaths are preventable, pregnancy remains a leading killer in developing countries.

Nick Clegg, who will be attending the conference, has now committed the government to focussing on MDG 5.

Women in Nepal are campaigning against domestic violence
Women in Nepal are campaigning against domestic violence

In Afghanistan- the world’s worst place to give birth- one woman dies every half an hour due to pregnancy related complications.

Clegg told the Guardian action would double the number of women and newborns saved (at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth, 250,000 babies) and allow 10 million couples to access family planning.

This is in addition to June’s G8 summit commitment to spend £750m on tackling maternal mortality and an overhaul of aid programmes.


A book by Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times and his wife WuDunn called Half the Sky details some of the other horrors still facing women in the 21st century.

With 60 to 100 million women missing, honour killings, acid attacks and sex slavery they call the current situation “gendercide”. Millennnium Development Goal 3, to promote gender equality and empower women, must not be overlooked.

According to Equality Now, in Somalia, 98 per cent of girls have their genitals mutilated.

Less shocking, but equally damaging, says Kristof, is the exclusion of women from healthcare and education.


Despite harrowing stories internationally, mothers continue to suffer.

The Fawcett Society has requested a judicial review into the emergency budget in June; they say 72 per cent of cuts will be met from women’s incomes.

“Many of the cuts are to the benefits that more women than men rely on, and the changes to the tax system will benefit far more men,” they said.

Ahead of the spending review in October, newspapers are also reporting that women will lose.

More women work in the civil service, and some departments will be cut by 40 per cent.

According to a report released by the Chartered Management Institute, the gender pay gap in the UK will not close until 2067.

Nearly the same amount of time since the Equal Pay Act first legislated against sex discrimination in the workplace.

The CMI is calling for transparency, Mike Petrook said: “People should not be discriminated against because of one letter on a birth certificate, it’s the job that earns the money, not the individuals.

“If companies don’t do this, they will lose their best talent as they are not reflecting the market place.”

Dangerous and unpaid

Unpaid work done by women is thought to contribute billions to the UK economy every year.

In Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, unofficial care work accounts for more than 80 per cent of all women’s jobs.

Almost two thirds of women in the developing world work in dangerous, low-paid or temporary jobs.

Centenary of National Women’s Day

Next year on March 8th we will celebrate 100 years of National Women’s Day. But how far have we come?

Two out of every three countries now have the same number of boys as girls in school, and women now occupy almost 40 per cent of paid jobs outside of farming, compared to 35 in 1990.

Sri Lanka, Thailand and Honduras all took fewer than 10 years to dramatically improve women’s chances of surviving pregnancy. Thanks to some progress on this MDG the percentage of global deliveries attended by a midwife or doctor has risen from 9 per cent to 19.

We ought to celebrate reducing the number of women dying during childbirth from 1,400 to 1,000 a day. But that is still a third of a million every year to save.

Mums matter

There are now more people called David than there are women in the British cabinet. Women across the globe are still unequal and unheard.


Oxfam and the Women’s Institute now work together on maternal mortality, and they need your support.


Half the Sky is from a Chinese proverb, where women are said to be so important as to hold up half the sky

Be positive:

Suffragettes hadn’t known anything other than political inferiority, but they didn’t give up. According to the CMI, women in the UK are resigning in record numbers from positions where they aren’t treated the same as their male colleagues.

If we accept that the most well off countries must help those who are less fortunate, it is up to us, as women in relative comfort, to find the strength to help our sisters who are in greater need.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Haiti- six months on, what can we really expect?

First published for Oxfam at

Americanisation is often seen as damaging to other nations’ cultures.

But the US’s influence on what the world considers important can only have helped Haiti after the earthquake six months ago.

Hundreds of Haitians have escaped poverty for fame in the United States, as sports stars, models and musicians.

And with the island’s close proximity to the superpower and the sheer force of the disaster, fundraising happened on a massive scale.

But half a year on the BBC has begun asking whether stalled progress, shown by news outlets here, will deter such a concerted response in the future.

Why so little progress?

Before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world.

Nearly half the population did not have access to clean drinking water, 86 percent of people in urban areas lived in slums and 83 percent of people had inadequate access to toilets.

Less than half of the 2.8 million people living in the capital Port-au-Prince had access to electricity.

Social services were similarly poor, with many children not attending school, 38 percent of the population over the age of 15 illiterate and unemployment at 30 percent.

No amount of aid, especially in a crisis, can change the structure of a country overnight.


The death toll of 222,570 means there are hundreds of thousands of people still experiencing grief, hardly great circumstances to face rebuilding their lives.

Another 300,000 were injured, and presumably family members are now caring for them, another, often invisible drain on human energies.

One and a half million people are living in temporary housing- tents, corrugated iron and tarpaulin- amongst the 19 million cubic meters of rubble from the collapse or damage of 188,383 houses, 3,978 schools and 30 hospitals.

A quarter of the civil service were killed in the disaster and government buildings were destroyed- the very people and resources necessary to co-ordinate the clean up.

So will it deter response?

For people to give, they must appreciate the extreme circumstances that a natural disaster presents- it could happen to any of us- and go into it with the knowledge that rebuilding large areas of a country takes time.

Adding to that the context of poor infrastructure, which increased the scale of destruction, means time for planning a useful and permanent build is equally understandable.

True picture

To make sure that people are not deterred from giving in these kinds of situations, coverage must be balanced between holding donors to account with showing what progress has been made.

Having raised $90 million, Oxfam is helping more than 440,000 people gain access to clean water, sanitation, education, shelter, and support for livelihoods.

Stories are still coming out of families surviving against the odds to become reunited.

But Jean Renald Clerisme, a presidential adviser, claims that less than 2 percent of the aid pledged has been received.

A BBC news report showed a church group digging themselves out of the rubble.

Is this community empowerment, or an example of a lack of help from the outside world?

With expensive foreign news bureaus closing, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to get a true picture of the world.

Ultimately the BBC has the pleasure of being founded in a country that doesn’t experience emergencies of this scale.

Maybe, all things considered, six months is too early to ask.

What do you think?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Pay 2p more to garment workers, selfish Western companies

First published for Oxfam at

According to a report released by ActionAid on Monday 5th July, a £4 t-shirt bought from Asda provides the retailer with £2.80, the supplier £1.18½, and the worker who uses their bare hands to assemble a throw-away item to a Western consumer- just 1½p.

The week before, garment workers across Bangladesh, where Asda has five factories, took to the streets.

The Bangladesh Sun said: “low wages, poor working conditions and non-compliance of past agreements by employers have resulted in recurring industrial violence”.

The Guardian explained that: “lower paid workers earn a minimum monthly salary of 1,660 taka, equivalent to less than £18. They have demanded an increase to 5,000 taka. Owners said last week they could pay no more than 3,000 taka a month.”

ActionAid actually sets the “living wage” in Bangladesh at 10,754 taka.

Photographs have emerged of police, working on behalf of the government, apparently hitting children during the riots.

Like low-paid workers across the world, most of the garment makers in Bangladesh are women.

At first, the government shirked responsibility. There was not a problem.

According to after the riots began, the Information Minister Abdul Kalam Azad announced plans to introduce a new law to target “yellow journalism”.

He is reported as saying: “newspapers and television and radio channels that are making false and misleading news to tarnish the image of ministers, lawmakers, the government and the country are in fact doing yellow journalism”.

Bad, “yellow” journalism? Or reporters capturing images of violence that bring the police, and possibly the government into disrepute?

Now, according to several English language Bangladeshi newspapers, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised an early pay revision for the ailing sector, saying current levels were “too little to meet the basic needs of life”.

It is unsurprising the Prime Minister has made such a move. The garment industry accounts for more than 80% of Bangladesh’s £10bn annual export earnings, according to commerce ministry data.

The Bangladesh Daily Star reported that European Union delegates led by the EU Ambassador Stefan Frowein have visited the region.

Not to help mediate, or call Western companies to account for taking profits over fairness, but to express “concern” from European consumers about the unrest.

But has anything been vocalised on the British High Street about a scarcity of fashionable garments? Do most people even know this is happening?

Should the EU, with its growing influence as a global actor, be trying to find those who can make the workers pay up to a “living wage”? So the “market”, a sterile word that masks suffering at the bottom of the supply-chain, need not be disrupted again.

Oxfam explains: “Through the World Trade Organisation and regional and bilateral trade agreements, corporations now enjoy global protection for many newly introduced rights.

“As investors, the same companies are legally protected against a wide range of governments’ actions.”

Ultimately, it may not be the Bangledeshi government’s call.

So, is it clear who should be making the sacrifice?

Asda, the UK’s second biggest supermarket, behind Tesco, with desires to over-take Primark as the cheapest clothes retailer made profits of half a billion pounds in 2008.

Walmart, its US parent company and the third-biggest company in the world, made a £16.3 billion profit from sales- equivalent to the economic output of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka combined.

From a £4 t-shirt, nearly three quarters of that goes right in ASDA’s pocket, and the shareholders who get that money won’t have sewn a stitch

ActionAid believes that if ASDA paid just 2p more on every t-shirt it buys from developing countries, its workers could afford to feed and clothe their families.

A drop in the bucket for the ‘family-friendly’brand.

Friday, 2 July 2010

When are we going to eliminate the future need for aid?

First published for Oxfam at

Promises are like babies: easy to make, hard to deliver

The UK, under Blair and Brown came out of the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles with renewed hope of all G8 nations (minus Russia) finally delivering a generation-old promise of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid.

Lost tourists or world leaders?
Lost tourists or world leaders?

But it appears that some of the wealthiest nations in the world had no intention of keeping it, and others will not be able to.

David Cameron, the new boy at the helm, has not managed what many believe Gordon Brown would have- to hold these failing G8 nations accountable.

France and Germany have managed only a quarter of their pledges, and Italy has actually reduced the amount of aid it gives by sixty per cent.

Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy as Lady Marian and Sheriff of Nottingham at the G8 in Canada
Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy as Lady Marian and Sheriff of Nottingham at the G8 in Canada

Max Lawson of Oxfam said: “This year the headline is maternal health, last year it was food; every year we get a new G8 initiative.

”But with overall aid flatlining, they are just moving money around.”

While it is easy to look on it as a disaster, a huge blow for those who campaigned on the streets in 2005 to ‘Make Poverty History’, the G8 is merely an informal grouping, labelled “increasingly ineffective” by the Guardian.

Does this prove that this is not the place to hold governments to account, and that the UK, with its diminishing status on the world stage, is not the country to do it?

Still, the last five years have not been without success.

ONE, the organisation set-up by Bono to monitor progress on the promises made at Gleneagles said in its annual report that with 93 per cent, the UK has almost met its target.

Canada and Japan will both exceed their admitedly modest pledges, and the US will boost aid by more than 150 per cent.

Thanks to international financial support to its health budget, Mozambique has seen the number of mothers dying in childbirth falling by more than 50 per cent since 1995.

In Ghana, because of financial aid for development put to good use, the government abolished all primary school fees in 2003. Over two academic years, 1.2 million more children were able to go to school.

More aid than ever, if not enough, is going to Africa; by pushing for “smarter aid” and promoting “good governance” results are coming through; there are more and more examples of African civil society groups reclaiming the right for African people to prosper.

For example Fair Play for Africa is a pan-african coalition of over 200 organisations from 10 African countries campaigning to make sure that health for all becomes a reality for all Africans. African civil society is growing at least as much African economies are.

David Cameron was quick to say he would narrow the remit of the G8 when the UK hosts it again in 2013. Could this be a shrewd indication that the G20, with its increased membership is better placed for the 21st century?

I think so. Instead of assuming defeat, the new focus on the G20, and the UN’s 2015 goals, will ensure this progress has not been in vain.If we look at the future, with developing nations powering ahead despite the recession, the OECD predicts that “by 2030 developing countries will account for nearly 60 per cent of world GDP”.

Ban Ki-moon, speaking ahead of the September UN Summit to discuss the 2015 Millennium Development Goals is incredibly positive that the world is still on target to cut in half incidence of extreme poverty.

But, he also admitted, “that improvements in the lives of the poor have been unacceptably slow, and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises”.

While the G8 appears to have been read its rites, poverty isn’t history.Today there is a food crisis in West Africa threatening the lives of more than 7 million people, the same as the population of the North West of England.

In this area, Niger, the world’s poorest country has a GDP of £3.6 billion. The North West in the UK alone has a GDP of £120 billion.

Aid is still greatly needed, and much has been promised. Its ultimate goal, as Mo Ibraheim, a Sudanese-born British telecoms mogul, told ONE, is probably to “eliminate the future need for aid”.