Monday 31 August 2015

Belper ........... the silly season

It is the last day of August, the month that newspapers dub "the silly season" because not much happens that is newsworthy so stories that would normally be spiked as being just too frivolous will be elevated because of the dearth of real news. In the past couple of years news editors have come to realise that their burden can be lightened if they look towards Belper for a vacuous column filler. They've not forgotten the defenestration of Madam Mayor in 2013 (ok so she wasn't actually thrown out of the council chamber window but the word is used here metaphorically) and to their obvious delight, the same Tories who acted in such an amateurish fashion and without due regard for the rules governing local councils have once again provided a story that demonstrates a lack of common sense. I am obviously refering to the ongoing saga of Mr Potato Head:

and here:

As those of you who venture along Chapel Street are no doubt aware Mr Potato Head now resides on the Cottage Project lawn facing the bus station. The leader of the Tory Belper Town Council commented:

Mr Nelson said it would stay there permanently unless needed for special events.
"He wasn't meant to be on the bus station," he said.
"It was an idea we had to put him up there so he wouldn't get vandalised.
"[But] if he was up there and the wind got hold of him... so risk assessment said no, it's not the place to be."
That's not quite what he said in a council meeting where he spoke of how wonderful it would be if motorists could look up at the bus station to see Mr Potato Head waving at them. They would have the chance to wave back at him. I have our BTC correspondent's notes of that meeting in front of me and he has tacked on his own, on the spot risk assessment of this idea as being, "unworkable, unsafe and a ridiculous waste of public funds". If the BelperStuff reporter could instantly make that judgement why has it taken Belper Town Council over 3 months to realise that the Mr Potato Head on the bus station idea was a non-starter.

Belper deserves better

It's about time that this town council started to move out of the silly season, which in Belper seems to occupy 12 months of the year and not just August. Council meetings resume on Tuesday 8th September (BTC website page with meeting dates) and we can but hope that this latest round of media interest into the unreality that is Belper Town Council will nudge some of the more aware councillors into the world that the rest of us inhabit.

There are real issues that need to be dealt with by this council; problems and opportunities that have an impact on peoples lives of far more relevance than buses on King Street, floral displays, high street honours, food festival commercial debacles or fibreglass cartoon characters being paraded as ambassadors of the town.

BelperStuff will report on these issues and hopes that the town council will not invent yet more silly season news items to deflect us from what is really important. In the meantime, if you feel the need to know more about Mr Potato Head then typing, "Mr Potato Head" into the "search this blog" box at the right hand side of the page will give you a list of all relevant BelperStuff posts.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Let No Man Steal Your Thyme ........................

Let No Man Steal Your Thyme might seem to be an odd choice of title for this post but it is exactly what happens when politicians make stupid and ill informed decisions ........... they steal time from us.

I was reminded of this when I watched the latest film interpretation of  the Thomas Hardy novel, "Far from the Madding Crowd", the one starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen. (I don't usually remember the names of film stars so I had to look it up here: Wikipedia article about the film).

In the film the two of them sang a charming duet that I link to: Let no man steal your thyme

I sat there in the cinema thinking about the use of this song, the way it encapsulated the feeling of lost opportunities, the way that the natural order of things can be twisted by deceit and selfishness, that the strength of a person can ebb away because of mistreatment, the chances of them recovering what they have lost being dependent on luck and the constancy of those who surround them.

A few days later I sat at my desk and started to write this post but I got no farther than the title so left it as a draft "may be" type of idea ........... and so this post has lingered on my machine, each day needing to be completed yet each day I have left it as a draft and moved on to some other topic. Today though I feel it is time to finish this post. Why ........... because looking back over the blog output (this will be the 51st post) I can see a recurring theme, a thread that runs through all the disparate topics. BelperStuff time after time comments on the decisions made by politicians and how those decisions affect lives. How our elected representatives make decisions based on their own dogma and prejudice, ignoring expert opinion in the misguided belief that even if the evidence does not support their position somehow they are still in the right. I am not just thinking of ODS when he was asked to back up his uninformed comments, that he said, "I know what I know". Such stupid arrogance runs right through this government. For example .................

"This is a budget for working people"

To make such an assertion when all the evidence points to a entirely different conclusion:

This graph was produced, as you can see, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and is extracted from a a report by Andrew Hood on benefit and tax changes. This nails the lie being pedaled by George Osborne, that the budget was for working people, the lie that has been parroted by Pauline Latham here: link to her website budget comments. Just how the Tories can describe the budget as being a budget for work beggars belief when you look at the IFS graph. The households that suffer the most are the second and third from bottom deciles that will lose between £1,100 and £1,300 per year, mainly because of the measures taken in the Summer 2015 budget (and those figures are an average, some families losing more than £2,000). The only group that shows a net gain is the second richest group of 2.6 million households, the typical Tory voting heartland.

It is deceits such as this that serve to propagate falsehoods, confuse and confound, fanning a belief that they are on the side of the poor who wish to better themselves when in reality they condemn those same people to years and decades of yet more poverty. They speak of hope when in reality they are fueling despair.

This is why "Let no Man Steal Your Thyme" is exactly the right title for this post. The Tories impoverish the lives of our children, deny opportunities for our young adults, condemn an increasing number of families to a dependence on below subsistence level jobs ............. take away years of development and achievement that should be a birthright in this country ........... in any country.

Watching Far from the Madding Crowd my mind strayed to the Thatcher years; something struck a chord. There are pit villages that even today are mere ghosts of what they once were, satellites of towns that are still blighted by the poverty that was a consequence of mine closures. There are still streets of empty abandoned houses, many of them bought by the miners under the Thatcher right to buy wheeze. The mines closed and with no alternative work the mortgage payments fell into arrears. The only alternative for many was to pack up and leave, the last act being to post the house keys through the letterboxes of the homes they had been tricked into buying. How long did it take for those families to recover? How many years of toil did it take before they once again felt secure and could shake of the blight of a bad credit rating? These years were stolen from them by uncaring, unthinking politicians who were hell bent on following their own beliefs, their own dogma even though there was ample evidence to show them that they were wrong.

It can take years of hardship and lost opportunities before we fully understand the true effect of ill judged political decisions. Why is it that these people fail to heed the lessons of history and instead choose to believe in their own infallibility? What they decide today affects people for years to come. The use of this folk song's lyrics as a metaphor for the consequences of believing the honeyed words of Tories is very apt: Link to the lyrics of the song

Let No Man Steal Your Thyme

As a cultural conclusion to this piece I offer you these alternatives:

A version by Pentangle featuring John Renbourn who I was delighted to see playing at the Queen's Head some years ago. Sadly, he died this year.

A haunting version by Anne Briggs. It was Anne Briggs who made this song so popular in the folk world. Sort of a local as she originates from Beeston.

A clip from the 1967 film featuring Julie Christie This film followed the book more closely, more true to life than the latest film. They also chose a different folk song.

Monday 17 August 2015

Songs of praise in Calais ............. an update

BelperStuff feels compelled to return to this issue once more as the show, aired last night on the BBC has been followed by the usual, polarised press coverage.

Those reading this blog outside the UK may not have access to BBC content so a look at these two YouTube videos will be of help in understanding what this is all about (for those who cannot see the video's embedded in the blog I first list the two video links) :

Segment of Songs of Praise from Calais
Service in the Calais migrant camp church

There is also this, surprisingly sourced by the Mail Online:

I have to admit that I am moved by these videos. I have no faith and am in no way a believer in anything religious but I can relate to a common humanity.

Reaction of the UK press

Some of the resultant headlines are depressingly predictable but  ........... not all of them.

How about this:

Daily Express - BBC Songs of Praise Calais Fury from viewers; definitely a newspaper for those who are easily infuriated. They even accused the BBC of trying to "brainwash Britain". Typical Daily Express sort of headline designed to appeal to those who suffer from untreated xenophobia.

or this:

Daily Mail - BBC stunt gone wrong complains that there was no singing recorded in the church and they also dug up a chap in the camp who complained that the BBC did not have permission to film there. The newspaper made no mention of where they themselves gained permission for their reporter to be in the camp. 

In contrast:

Daily Telegraph - Songs of Praise Calais review by Ed Powers. A well balanced report that reflects a range of views but in the end is full of ........ well ....... praise.


The Guardian ................ common link is Christianity the not too surprising piece by that well known priest Giles Fraser.

It would be a relief to those associated with BelperStuff if we could move on from this story, back to more comfortable facts and figures, graphs and charts ............. sustenance for the inner nerd. If only the problems of this world could be at the level of "Belper Town Council wants to ban buses from King Street" or the re-emergence of Mr Potato Head. Meanwhile, life goes on in that shanty town in Calais; refugees still hoping to gain a refuge and the chance of a decent life.

Saturday 15 August 2015

Amber Valley immigration ......the facts

The previous two BelperStuff posts have dealt with the plight of refugees and tried to shine the spotlight of pure data on the subject so that those reading the posts can be assisted to make an informed judgement based on facts and not emotive newspaper headlines or unwise political spin.

Now we turn to the far more difficult matter of immigration which is often confused with those seeking asylum, mainly because of imprecise statements in the media or, once again, the type of politician who appeals to the lowest common denominator ............ prejudice. All too often we here the term, "illegal immigrants" whereas, in fact no person entering this country (or attempting to enter this country) is illegal until they have been assessed following an application for entry or because they are seeking asylum. Up until they are refused entry or deemed not to be in need of asylum they are all legal. We have already looked at the refugee problem so now we turn to the other reasons for seeking entry into the UK but now at a local level ........... in fact as it affects our region of Amber Valley.

During the past few years many have been persuaded to believe that we are being inundated by immigrants and it saddened me to hear this sentiment repeated  on many a doorstep when out campaigning during the election in May. I did my best to replace myth with facts but all too often the persistent drip of sensationalist headlines and the corrosive and xenophobic rhetoric of the Tories and UKIP had done its worst leaving decent folk with the impression that our country, even our county was besieged by immigrants. It is my task today to continue the job of providing fact instead of fiction, truth instead of insidious falsehood.

Now for the facts about Amber Valley

Using the 2011 census; specifically the element which contains details of those whose address has changed in the previous 12 months (specifically those over the age of 1), we find that:

4,650 moved into the district of Amber Valley.
4,312 moved out
6,208 moved internally (from one AV address to another AV address).
338 represents the net change in the Amber Valley population due to the movement of people.

(Edit 16/08/2015 - I have been asked, "what is the total population of Amber Valley?" - The 2011 census figure was 122,300. There are estimates for the years up to 2014 on the ONS website but you might like to refer to this document: Forecasts of population and households ........... Amber Valley for further information).

Of the incomers 397 came from abroad, split 52% females and 48% males. What the census does not show is the nationality or ethnic origin of these migrants. many would be British citizens returning from living abroad, yet more would be Commonwealth citizens taking up residence with many of the rest being EU citizens. How many of the 397 were from other countries or perhaps refugees the data does not state. It is well to remember that there are 5.3 million (5,300,000 represents approximately 1 in 11) British citizens living abroad and that there is a continual flow of UK passport holders coming and going across our borders as they change residence.

What data is that you might well ask? It's here: An analysis of 2011 Census data for Amber valley. Hopefully this link works for all of you and I do urge you to explore this. By placing your cursor over the elements of the chart you can find out, for instance, how many children aged between 1 and 15 moved to York .......... there were 12 of them; or how many people over the age of 1 moved between Amber Valley and Derby ...... 777 moved into Amber Valley whilst 729 moved to Derby. Follow the link and have a dabble yourself.

On the face of it we are left with the impression that 1 in 12 of those who moved into the area are from abroad but, by referencing the data available from the Oxford Migration Watch (much quoted by UKIP so I'm quoting from a hostile source here) there were a total of 200 overseas migrants into Amber Valley in the years 2010 to 2014, an average of 50 per year or, say, 1 per week. From accessing more recent ONS census data (from 2014) the number of migrants into Amber Valley increased to over 5.600 in that previous year so the ratio of migrants from abroad to migrants from inside the UK was approximately 1 in 27, a change from the 2011 figure of 1 in 12. I suspect that the true figure is somewhere in between but this will only emerge as the more recent data undergoes further study or we get a better understanding from the 2021 census.

I do also question the ONS data on the outflow of foreigners in 2010/11 because I know of 5 foreign nationals who left Amber Valley in that period yet they do not show up in this data. The census is about as reliable a source as we can get for macro data but it can be deceived if the census forms drop through a letterbox on the wrong date or into recently vacated premises. This survey is based on a change of address within the last 12 months and can miss some movement.

So ............... do you feel swamped by foreigners?

I don't. I welcome the mix of cultures and detest the prejudice and near hysteria that some of our so-called leaders in society seem hell bent on whipping up. There are some very palpable myths flying around which have to be confronted, the questions of housing, social security, use of the health service, jobs and wages being the most obvious. Oh and we can add to that education and schools. I promise that BelperStuff will not shrink from these issues but will endeavour to dig out the relevant data so that those that follow this blog can make up their own minds, not from the rhetoric of rabblerousers but from cold, hard facts.

A final fact

In 2010/11 there were 85 people who moved from Amber Valley to Sheffield with only 47 moving in the other direction. That is a net outflow of 38. Of those moving to Sheffield 82 are shown as between the ages of 16-49 with 39 of that age group returning to AV. I suspect that this section of the data is capturing students who choose to live near their place of study, perhaps Hallam University but only a more detailed analysis would show the truth of that assumption. I included this "final fact" just to whet your appetite and to demonstrate what can be gleaned if you follow up the link, which I will repeat:

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Refugees ................... a global perspective

One of the BelperStuff editorial team noticed this on the New York Times website. The series of graphics map the flow of refugees around our planet. The plight of these poor people is hard to imagine for those of us enjoying our affluent and safe lives.

Lifting quotes from the NYT report we discover that, "nearly 60 million people are displaced around the world because of conflict and persecution, the largest number ever recorded by the United Nations".

85% of all refugees live within the ringed area 

To understand what this means for the host countries:

This chart is already out of date and massively understates, for example, the number of Syrian refugees that have sought shelter in the Lebanon and other middle-eastern countries.

So what is the situation in the UK?

For an impartial source of information we looked here: United Nations Refugee Agency website page for the UK where this can be read:

At the end of 2014, the population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons made up just 0.24% of the population. That’s 117,161 refugees, 36,383 pending asylum cases and 16 stateless persons.

The top ten countries of origin are as follows:
Eritrea (3,239), Pakistan (2,711), Syria (2,081), Iran (2,011), Albania (1,576), Sudan (1,449), Sri Lanka (1,282), Afghanistan (1,136), Nigeria (875), India (689)
What benefits do asylum seekers receive in the UK?
The majority of asylum seekers do not have the right to work in the United Kingdom and so must rely on state support.
Housing is provided, but asylum seekers cannot choose where it is, and it is often ‘hard to let’ properties which Council tenants do not want to live in.
Cash support is available, and is currently set at £36.95 per person, per week, which makes it £5.28 a day for food, sanitation and clothing.
(BelperStuff calculates that costs 1p per day per capita to support all the refugees seeking shelter in the UK).
(Source: Home Office)

How does Philip Hammond (UK Foreign Secretary) respond to this:

The world cries out for wisdom yet the UK government comes up with this sort of stuff. I best end this post now before I start to dig too deeply into my store of adjectives.

Friday 7 August 2015

BBC - Songs of Praise being recorded in Calais migrant camp this weekend

BelperStuff had planned something different for today but reading this headline in today's Guardian, Songs of Praise to be broadcast from Calais migrant camp just had to be shared with you.

What a stunning riposte by the BBC religious broadcast team to David Cameron and his statement branding those poor folk suffering abject poverty in their makeshift shelters in Calais as a "Swarm". Even the Daily Mail had to report the backlash: Cameron accused of awful dog whistle politics describing Calais migrants swarm. I have to admit that reading that Songs of Praise headline this morning took my breath away. That an institution such as the BBC, which is being attacked unmercifully by political puppets who jerk on the end of strings manipulated by the commercial media; that there are editorial elements within the BBC so concerned about the plight of the poor folk in Calais that they have taken the bold step to cock a snoot at Cameron and his baying ilk. We look for champions to speak up for the dispossessed but little expected one-such to be Aled Jones. Well done all involved with the programme. 

BelperStuff has long thought of Cameron as a coward, too frightened to tell the truth about immigration and relying on rabble rousing words to gain support from a deceived public. The World Bank lists Britain as the 5th largest economy on this planet and yet our xenophobic PM quails at the thought of no more than 10,000 brave and desperate people who are trying to make something of their lives. 

All Cameron can suggest is that we take over a Kent airfield to cater for the trucks that are stuck on the M20 when the way to diffuse the tensions that are the root cause of Channel Tunnel delays is to open up a decent, humanitarian facility to house the immigrants and work out how to assimilate them into our society. 

It would appear that they come here because they speak English 

That's why they come here Cameron. Not because they seek benefits, not because the British economy is so much better than anywhere else in Europe. Why is it that there are 175,000 applications for asylum in Germany but only 24,000 in the UK?

Come on Cameron ............... grow a back bone and for once in your life tell the truth.

BelperStuff has nothing but respect for a person who has braved the migrant trail; journeyed from a home country with no idea where they will end up; been exploited by people traffickers; braved a sea crossing in an overloaded boat that should have been condemned as un-seaworthy; somehow managed to cross a continent with little or no money or resources; spent months trying to live in a makeshift shelter whilst trying to climb aboard lorries and trains to reach a land where they face being treated as sub-humans and deported back to the very places from which they fled in fear of their life.

(Edit: Monday 10th August 2015: A Syrian refugee talks about  his 17 month journey to BBC Nottingham)

I can do no better than quote this extract from the Daily Mail article:
The United Nations Secretary General's special representative on international migration, Peter Sutherland, said demands for economic migrants to be kept out of the UK are 'a xenophobic response to the issue of free movement'.
Mr Sutherland told BBC2's Victoria Derbyshire programme: 'In my opinion, the debate in the UK is grossly excessive in terms of Calais. We are talking here about a number of people - a relatively small number in the context of what other countries are having to do - who are in terrible conditions and have to be dealt with by France and/or Britain.'
The migrants crossing the Mediterranean by boat are 'in the main' genuine refugees fleeing violence and persecution, he said.
'Germany last year received 175,000 asylum applications. Britain received 24,000,' said Mr Sutherland.
'We are talking here about between 5,000 and 10,000 people in Calais who are living in terrible conditions. The first thing we have to do collectively is to deal with their conditions. Instead of talking about sending Gurkhas or building fences, we should be thinking of the humanitarian crisis.'

These people are brave and resourceful. They are not a swarm, nor are they a problem. They represent an opportunity for one of the richest countries in the world to gain self respect by demonstrating compassion and justice.

It is about time that our pampered rich elite led by this woeful example of a  Bullingdon Boy stopped all this nonsense about fortress Britain and started to realise what being a true statesman entails. For me the litmus test is who would I employ if they turned up for an interview .................. in this case Cameron or a Calais asylum seeker. I think you know which one I would choose.

A later edit:

Checking through the Googled references used in producing this post I realised that I had not used this interesting leader in the The Church Times 7th August 2015 . It's not a paper that I would normally subscribe to but I found it interesting and urge you to read it for background information that I've not come across before. I was drawn towards this:

Dehumanising language has, indeed, no rightful place in discussing how to respond to people who flee poverty even, let alone persecution and mortal danger. The direction in which it tends becomes clear if we compare the situation, as one of our correspondents does this week, to the Jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s. The echoes are from the wrong side of that particular problem. This was a prime-ministerial Enoch Powell moment, to say no more.
The Bishop of Dover’s response does not need a Bletchley Park to decode it: “we need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters.” 
I have to admit that I am not a religious person but have no hesitation in bringing to your attention the common sense being shown by both Songs Of Praise and the Church Times.

Monday 3 August 2015

Poverty and inequality ......................... just words

These two words, poverty and inequality, are so often used by politicians and journalists from the left, right and centre and endlessly picked over by talking heads on the television that we can be forgiven for losing sight of what these terms represent. Before I go any deeper into this post it would seem prudent to establish a common definition.


Defined here by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF):
"When a person’s resources (mainly their material resources) are not sufficient to meet their minimum needs (including social participation)". A very clear and precise definition.


Now this word is a far more slippery beast so I sought help from the UK Equality Trust:
"The UK is a divided society where the richest receive the lion's share leaving crumbs for the rest." That is a very no nonsense statement but one with which I tend to agree.

Unfortunately we live in a time when those definitions have come under a sustained and relentless attack. We have Ian Duncan Smith (IDS - or as we refer to him on this blog - ODS) stating in parliament that the definition of child poverty would be changed from "living in a household with an income less than 60% of the national median income" to ............... well here I start to get very annoyed because now child poverty relates to exam results and if the parents are in work. Look here at the Daily Mirror article of July 1st 2015 for further details. So children doing well at school but living in a household with not enough money to put a balanced diet on the table even though both parents struggle to make ends meet with zero hour contracts will not now be deemed to be living in poverty. What ODS has so conveniently swept aside is that very clear definition as stated above by the JRF; if your resources are not sufficient then you are in poverty. Taken further, the inability to participate in society is a relative measure and can only be assessed by a comparison of income and opportunity. This is why the relative poverty measure was enshrined in the Child Poverty Act passed by Gordon Brown in 2010, which required the Government to eradicate child poverty by 2020. (Look I know that BelperStuff has referenced this before but there are no apologies for repetition).

What is needed

It has to be acknowledged that this is a complex issue but there are many of us who have been shocked that the Tories were returned to Westminster with a majority even though the attack on the poor had been so obvious in the past 5 years. We had not realised that the arguments put forward by the likes of ODS had taken such a hold of the electorate. The insidious drip of misinformation and redefinition have undoubtedly undermined what we thought were the values that lay at the heart of British social consensus. Obviously attempts by groups such as the JRF and the Equality Trust are not enough and any amount of blogging and letter writing would also appear to be of limited effect. So what can be done? Well ......... perhaps the first basic step is to pin down the exact meaning of the two words in question; engineer a debate that leads to an accepted standard so that every time either word is uttered, be it by Jeremy Corbyn or David Cameron, the precise meaning of "poverty" or "inequality" is understood by all. So how are these two words defined on BelperStuff? That's easy and, at the risk of baffling the followers of Russel Brand (I refer of course to the interview on Newsnight where he claimed that people like him could not understand graphs), it is best to illustrate the point with yet more graphs. In an earlier post BelperStuff pointed out that prior to the Thatcher government the ratio of net income between the bottom 2.5 million UK households with that of the top 2.5 million was 1:7 ............... i.e. that the top group earned 7 times more than the bottom group after adjustment for tax and benefits. In comparison, by 2013 that ratio had doubled to 1:14; the top group now enjoying a net income on average 14 times that of the bottom group. By the legal standard definition of poverty (60% of median income) in both pre-Thatcher and 2013 the bottom group are in poverty but that poverty is now demonstrably worse.

Source: Data from the Office of National Statistics/ BelperStuff interpretation & graph
This graph shows the relative change in wealth of each socio-economic group in the 36 years between 1977 and 2013 (adjusted for inflation), for example, the bottom decile is 10% worse off whilst the top group are 64% better off. I have to stress that these figures denote their relationship to the average income.  I am resisting the urge to shower supportive graphs upon you but the salient point here is that even though there has been a significant rise in UK GDP over this period most groups, in fact 21 million households, are comparatively worse off than they were in 1977 when compared with the average income in 2013. Ah yes, you may say, but what of the difference between the average and mean income? Not a lot really but that will be the subject of the next post on this subject.

If only our Labour politicians asked those on the right to defend this graph, to use it as a starting point for the debate to fix the meaning of the word poverty and then to determine what are the UK indicators of inequality. Is it any wonder that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign has gained in traction when he seems to be the only candidate who understands the cancer of unfairness that lays at the very heart of our society.

To be continued ..................................