Tory budget set to hit poorest the hardest

The forthcoming proposed Tory budget, combined with measures introduced in the last months of the Labour party – hit the poor hardest and are likely to increase inquality.

_48863679_ifs_gra_304If you believe Richard Wilkinson’s ‘The Spirit Level’, then inequality matters, because a whole host of social problems – from depression to crime – are correlated with the degree of inequality in society.

The exception is, of course, that the wealthiest ten percent lose out more than those in the middle – but it seams that it’s the poorest who are hit the hardest…

See this BBC report for more details

If you check out the graphic outside the room of P104 you will see that inequality increased massively under Thathcher, continued under New Labour, and the increase looks set to carry on into the future!

The cost of the financial crisis – £4000 per year per household

That’s an overall loss to the taxpayer of about £90 billion at a conservative estimate!

Just a brief summary from the WDM on the costs of the current financial crisis – yet more evidence of how the average guy on the street ends up paying  for the greed of the capitalist class (the bankers who destabilised our economy and their government apologists who let them).

Keep in mind what I said in this post about David Harvey who pointed out that the world’s leading hedge fund managers in 2009 took home  £15 billion in bonuses between them. –

According to the article –

”The Treasury’s total net cash outlay for purchases of shares in banks and lending to the banking sector, including Northern Rock, amounted to around £117 billion by 2010. The Treasury’s additional potential exposure to banking losses totals (through insurance of bank assets and Bank of England lending) totals over £1 trillion.’

‘The crisis has had a huge impact on the public finances. UK households will have to pay around £3,900 per year more in taxes – or public spending per household will have to be reduced by £3,900 per year, or some combination – to balance the books. Households are also likely to face a one-off cost of £1,500 each (on average) for the banking bailout itself.’

The figures above may not quite add up because there are numerous different ways of caclulating (estimating most of the time) costs and potential costs!

Spending cuts, agenda setting and ideological control

I thought the following two quotes were worth flagging up – from Polly Toynbee’s latest post – about the forthcoming budget cuts…

‘Never mind that benefit fraud is only 0.7% of the benefit bill, Cameron’s crackdown smears all claimants by association. The tax evasion bill is at least £70bn, according to Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, and the IMF puts it higher.’

So she is basically saying that if the government put its efforts into making the wealthy pay the taxes they are legally suppossed to be paying, then the forthcoming cuts would be much less severe…

‘Cameron has performed a political conjuring trick of some brilliance in diverting voters’ wrath from the gamblers of high finance to public servants’ excess. By persuading people it was public spending not the bankers’ crash that wrecked the economy, he has won the narrative so far – no mean feat. ‘

Now the media agenda is focussing on inefficient public services – when the cause of the financial crisis was the private sector lending irrespsonsibly. Interestingly, the fact the Tories are engineering a debate about what should be cut is precisely what steers our attention away from the tax avoidance by the rich and the fact they caused the crash in the first place.

Don’t be fooled by the Tory propoganda – It was the wealthy who caused the crash and now it is the poor who are going to pay! Demand an end to tax avoidance and higher taxes for the rich! Make those who created this mess pay for it.

An interesting discussion question here might be – has the time now come when violent resistance to Tory cuts is a duty rather than merely a right?

Book summary – One Blood

Heale-275x415Book – One Blood – Inside Britain’s New Street Gangs – John Heale, 2008.

This focuses on just some of the themes in this book –

This book is based mainly on interviews with gang members based in London, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere in Britain, and provides an empathetic and some may say sympathetic insight into gang life in modern Britain.

Heale focuses mainly on the wider social and economic background in which most of the gang members he interviews have grown up and argues that there is a link between living in a deprived, high crime area with limited opportunities and the emergence of gang culture. One can discern four major reasons why individuals join gangs –

Firstly, Heale reminds us many current gang members, would have been victims of crime numerous times before they joined a gang, and this experience of being a victim of crime, is often what leads people to joining a gang.

Heale uses data from the British Crime Survey to demonstrate how crime is highly concentrated in poorer areas. He points out that if you are a teenage boy living in a gang area, it is a near certainty that you will have been a victim of crime at some point, and probably a repeat victim, In this context, joining a gang makes sense as it is a way of protecting yourself from being a victim of crime – it is a rational response to living in a high crime area.

This is illustrated this by the case of how one 13 year old, Daniel, came to join a gang – It started with him being punched in the face by a member of a gang in a local park. His brother, already a member of another gang, took vengeance on his behalf – in school – which lead to Daniel spending more time with his elder brother – which eventually lead to him getting introduced to his brother’s gang.

Secondly, many of Heal’s interviewees have come from broken families, having parents with drug problems who are disinterested in their children and many youths would have witnessed domestic violence from a young age – and would have grown up with the feeling that nobody really cares about them.

Thirdly, Heale reminds us that living in poverty and being marginalized from the rest of society is normal in gang areas . Following. Gangs typically emerge on sink housing estates – with poor, marginalized people being crammed together in one area. In these areas we have high levels of debt and stress. Today, we have a new generation of kids that have known nothing other than these estates – and it is this generation that are joining gangs.  

To illustrate how geographically isolated people on these estates are – Heale points out that the typical gang member has a very local world view – they spend most of their time in their local area and tend to associate their particular territory with their peers and thus with protection and safety – when interviewed, many gang members perceive going to the London Eye as a trip abroad. Gang members don’t generally think outside their local boundaries – and Heale argues that the rest of the country may as well be a different nation as far as he is concerned. He in fact argues that the experience of life in an area dominated by gangs is very different from life in most other parts of Britain.

Finally, there is a lack of legitimate opportunities in the kinds of areas where gangs emerge. Gang members do not see any legitimate opportunities in training or working their way out, and they can earn a lot more money getting involved with selling drugs within the context of a gang. Most gang members see their part of being a gang as a way of ‘getting out’ of the ghetto – as evidence he cites Professor John Pitts who speculates that those at the top of a drugs chain in the Walthom Forest area of London, one  could earn as much as £130 000 a year from drug dealing.

Thus the experience of life for a typical person living in gangland today, and for your typical gang member, would have involved being brought up in a broken home, poverty and relative deprivation, being a multiple victim of crime, and one of frustrated opportunities. Heale’s analogy for Gangland is that it is like a ‘boot perpetually stamping on a human face’ – This experience of early socialization encourages individuals to think of the short term – rather than planning for the long term, because for them, there is no long term future, other than prison or death, and this is enough for many people in these gang areas to become emotionally detached from the consequences of their actions.

So according to Heale it is this context of economic and social deprivation that explains why people join gangs and also helps to explain some of the extremely violent crimes that some gang members engage in.

Another coffee ruined by other people’s screaming children

So there we all were – upstairs in Cafe Nero – four of us – all sitting alone, reading or surfing – quietly enjoying the peaceful ambience enhanced by some gentle classical music – and then this ends abrubtly with the arrival of two mums with toddlers – who proceded to run around and scream very loudly – (the toddlers not the mums) – This isn’t the first time it’s happened – Cafe Nero is effectively a no-go area on Saturday mornings because it fills up early on with young families. This is a good example of how child centeredness has gone too far. If this were any other demographic causing such a public disturbance it would be clamped down on, but we lamely tolerate it if it’s families with young children polluting the environment with their uncessary frivolities- the social norm is that the rest of us are expected to put up with it.  

Personally I’ve had enough of this and think it’s unnacceptable – the general rule is that other people’s lifestyle choices should not inflict noise pollution on the general public – I say this should be generalised to families with young children too. Coffee shops are a relatively scarce resource – and all it takes is one family to ruin the atmosphere for any number of adults. I think I will start a campaign for child free restaurants and coffee shops – otherwise those of us that want a peaceful capuccino are effectively discriminated against because where there are other people’s children, there is rarely peace.

I also wonder if Neros, or any other coffee shop has actually done it’s market research – I wonder what proportion of people go to coffee shops for a civilised and peaceful experience – and how many avoid going because of the risk of becoming a victim of the ‘public violence of  liberal parenting’. Surely there has to be scope for a child free coffee house or two in the local area???

SocNews – TA – Do we have too much choice in our lives?

In this podcast Laurie Taylor, Renata Selacl and Rachel Bowlby discuss whether or not we have ‘Too much choice? (second half of the broadcast)

This is relevant to ‘criticisms of postmodern thought’

Having established that ‘choice’ is the dominant way in which we experience life today’ – pointing to the areas in which we have to make choices – what school to go to, whether to have a caesarian birth, what mortgage,holiday, care, what partner… and so on!!!  – two points of particular interest are –

Having too much choice can lead to anxiety – we constanly worry about ‘having made the right choices’ – and having made a choice – we sometimes worry that we have made the wrong choice and might focus on all the possibilities that have closed off to us a result – either way the net result of having too mcuh choice is anxiety. This challenges the idea that ‘more coice’ is automatically a good thing.

Secondly, there is the suggesting that we spend so much time making choices over relatively mundane things – that we lose sight of the bigger questions such as what’s wrong with society, where society is heading and issues such as social inequalities – Laurie Taylor in fact talks of us being ‘burdened’ with choice’ and there is a suggestion that ‘having to choose’ makes us less free and more powerless. ‘

I think the issue they are getting at is that we have choice over certain things – but only as consumers – and no real power to influence politics at a deeper level -the conservatives and labour and lib dems are all right wing for example. In this sense one can see consumerism as part of neo-liberal ideoligical control.

This clearly ties in with Bauman’s ideas.

Sociology on TV – Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14

 If you’re here for A level resources, you’ll probably find my new site more useful– 

I though this was relevant to ‘the social construction of childhood’

Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14  (aired August 2010) follows a 14 Yyr old girl from the UK who is in the process of becoming a superstar in Japan – for doing this –

Note how I picked the boarder to match her outfit. Gok would be proud I am sure.

51ge8Uwv87L__SS500_It turns out that she has a particular look that relates to Japanese anime . You see this look all the time in Japanese films such as ‘spirited away’ – (An excellent, if odd, movie, which gets a 5* review on amazon – which is well deserved! (1600 reviews)

Now I’m sure in Japan this phenomenon of young girls dressing up in skirts, make up and ribbons is all just cutsie cutsie and innocent – but of course this being Britain the issue of the demographic of viewers on youtube came up – the biggest age group for females was her age range, but for men it was the 40 to 50 somethings. The question arose, why do 40 year old men watch 14 year old girls dancing on the internet – and the programme was staight into the paedophile issue… something which isn’t even discussed in Japan, this simply isn’t seen as an issue.  Now I imagine that just as many 40 year old men watch Beckii in Japan as in the UK – So my question is this -Why is it seen as acceptable for 40 year old men to watch Beckii in Japan, but viewed with suspicion in the UK?

On the methods front, you might like to see if you can find something by Dan Garder – he wrote something on the problem of counting paedophiles in a recent book called ‘Risk’.

Finally, it seams that we have here a 14 year old girl who has got famous by ‘getting lucky’ – she’s found a genre she likes, done some dancing, and been picked up by an agent – and fitted in to a particular subcultural style.  Perhaps her appeal stems from the fact that she is real? This suggests there is a chance that ‘I could be her too’ . What I personally like about Beckii is the fact that she seams to be her own person amidst the fame, she’s not a ‘desperate wannabe’ like some Big Brother types.

I also thought this discussion thread on facebook sounded quite sociological – the entries, however, show no sociological imagination whatsoever…. I’m sure you could add something more sociological in.

Interestingly, the producer says of her mature attitude and utter ‘normality’ – ‘her group of very lovely close friends at home always serve to make her feel normal, and rather than resent that she thoroughly embraces it, perhaps sub-consciously knowing that in the tough world of showbiz, she needs to hold on to something real and honest to keep her grounded. ‘

If you watched the programme, you might remember an odd moment in which a Japanese fan sent her a box containing about 20 packets of Japanese Noodles. If  I were to send her a present it would be a copy of this – although this might lead to Beckii giving up her life of dancing and become a Feminist activist…

Web Site of the Week – The Bristol Centre for Market and Public Organisation

I was just clearing up my desktop and stumbled across a document with a link to this organsiation – The Bristol Centre for Market and Public Organisation funded by the ESRC – they do podcasts! (one day soon that won’t seem like such a novelty).

The things they research are of direct relevance to the AS family and education modules, research methods and A2 social policy – See also the link below for details of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that forms the background of this research project (2009)

Some of the key points –

The poorest fifth of children score, on average, 14 percentile points lower than the middle fifth of children in Key Stage 2 tests at age 11, and 31 percentile points lower than the richest fifth.

Lack of economic resources is not the only thing that matters for disadvantaged children. Together the levels of parental education, demographic characteristics like family size and structure, and the characteristics of the schools attended by the poorest fifth can explain 60 to 70% of their educational deficits at Key Stage 2.

Criticisms of Transnational Corporations 2 – damage to the environment

All of this material is relevant to the global development module – this can be used in an essay that asks you to ‘assess the role of TNCs’ or in any essay that asks you to criticise neo-liberal approaches to development, because TNCs are one of the primary agents of the neo-liberal project. You should read this in conjuction with the previous blog in this thread – I-Nightmares, Killer Coke and Sweatshops –

Corporations damaging the environment

images3One of the worst cases of both environmental and social harm is that of Union Carbide in Bhopal. In December 1984 when an explosion at Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India caused toxic gas to leak into the local area. 3000 people died immediately, a further 20 000 people have died and 120 000 suffered illness as a direct result of the toxic pollution that even to this day, 25 years, later, is still seeping into the ground water which the local people have to drink. Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which should have take on liability for this, but failed to adequately clear up the pollution or compensate the victims of this tragedy. (7) (8)

A second example is the failure of Shell and Exxon Mobile to clear up the pollution of the Niger Delta – Shell in particular has been460_0___30_0_0_0_0_0_shell_skull_colour the target of sustained criticism for failing to clear up pollution of the tribal lands of the Ogoni people caused by its oil pipelines leaking – this particular case being documented in the recent film documentary ‘I’m with stupid’. (9a) (10)

The total harm done in this remote region is far in excess of the recent BP disaster off the coast of America, one recent newspaper article (12) reports that –

‘With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing.’

94300Shell claims that most of the oil spills are due to Vandalism by radical, armed militias, but the local communities claim it is because of rusting and decaying pipes. On this point, it is worth seeing the 2010 documentary film ‘Sweet Crude’ (13) – which actually follows the development of the armed militias mentioned by Shell – it turns out that protests over the combination of pollution and lack of social development following oil extraction used to be peaceful groups but following years of nothing happening, some protestors have turned to more violent tactics. The sad thing is – all they are asking for is their fare share (14)

In fairness to shell – they have provided money to the Nigerian Government which was intended to develop local areas, but given that Nigeria has one of the most corrupt governments on the planet, it is no surprise that most of this money has disappeared.

To go back to the Corporation (1), the argument is made that one of the root causes of pollution in developing countries is because TNCs are ‘externalising machines’ – In order to maintain profitability they try to externalise as many costs as they can get away with, and pollution is one obvious example of an externality. All of the above companies have been happy to let local communities bear the costs of their pollution, rather than paying for the cleanup.


(1) – a link to the homepage of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.


(2)  – A link to my blog on ‘Bhopal’ – the worst industrial accident in history – check out the links to the ‘yes men’ material – inspiring stuff! (coming soon!)


(3) – A link to ‘Belching Out the Devil – Global Adventures with Cocacola by Mark Thomas, 2008


(4) – a fact sheet outlining the history of Shell in Nigeria


(5) – web site of the DVD the age of stupid – a film about humanity polluting the planet – one chapter of which is devoted to Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta


(6) – news article outlining how oil pollution in Nigeria is far worse than that caused by the BP spill off the coast of America.


(7) – web site for the 2010 movie Sweet Crude.


(8) – a clip of local Nigerians protesting about their oil being taken and them getting nothing in return.

Why any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement

RSA video and podcast of David Harvey on the credit crunch – David Harvey has read, re-read and taught Marx’s Capital every year for the last four decades. According to him ‘any sane person today would join an anti-capitalist organisation, because otherwise we are screwed’ (or something along those lines) –

And the podcast from Thinking Allowed –

 My summary of the above two together – These are relevant to the question ‘Assess the relevance of Marxist theory to an understanding of contemporary society’

This is really quite advanced stuff for an A level student – and quite difficult to understand – I will try and clarify if you don’t get it – catch me at the end of the day sometime!

David Harvey’s basic theory is that Capitalism is a system that grows in boom-bust cycles – the bust phase being what is commonly known as an ‘economic crisis’, which typically requires Nation States to step in and ‘rebalance’ the system to get economic growth going again.  The problem is that the solutions to one economic crisis simply lay the foundations for another crisis, or downturn in economic growth, at some future point in another part of the world, or another sector of the economy.

David Harvey demonstrates one way in which Marxist theory is still relevant to understanding contemporary events – Here is how Harvey explains the ‘credit crunch’ in Marxist terms –

He starts off by pointing out that ‘the excessive power of finance capital’ is the root problem of the current crisis – In other words the banking and credit industries who lend money had (and still arguably have) too much power – but how did this happen?

Harvey goes back to another ‘economic crisis’ in the 1970s to explain this. At this point in history, he points out that wages, especially in the manufacturing sectors, in Europe were too high in order for Capitalists to make a profit. This crisis was solved by outsourcing manufacturing to the developing world where labour is cheaper and a combination of high unemployment in the West and Thatcher breaking the power of unions in the 1980s. This then meant that overall labour costs were lower, restoring profitability and economic growth.

However, wages provide people with the money that buys goods – thus a reduction in wages lead to a reduction in the demand for goods and services, which again reduces profit for Capitalists –

The solution to this problem was ‘pumping up the credit economy’ – or encouraging consumers to get out their credit cards and take on more debt.  The average British household has trebled its debt in the last thirty or forty years, most of this debt being in the form of mortgages, which most of us regard as a normal part of adult life.

The end result of this is that the banking and finance sectors have grown massively in recent years – before the credit crunch, in the mid 2000s, they represented 30% of the British economy. The profits of these industries have soared in 1990s – whereas manufacturing profits were declining and Harvey argues that Britain has screwed the manufacturing industry to keep the financiers happy –

Something else that happened in the last decade was the ‘deregulation of the finance sector’ – banks and hedge funds were given more freedom to lend – and many banks such as Northern Rock did so to people who could not realistically afford to pay back what they borrowed – eventually people woke up to this fact and the banking sector of the economy started to collapse (economic growth based on debt which needs to be repaid – once it’s realised this can’t be repaid it causes a crash)

Of course in Britain, this was a disaster, because baking  represented 30% of our economy – so the government bailed the banks out – and now we have a massive national debt – and what are the Tories doing – cutting our public services by 25% and raising the pension age so we, the tax payer,  can pay for this.

What are we actually paying for – the billions of pounds of profit that the heads of banks have taken in wages and bonuses over the last two decades. We are paying for them – The unequal accumulation of wealth has not stopped – in 2009 more billionaires were created in India than ever and in the same year the managers of the 5 biggest hedge funds in the world shared bonuses of $15 billion.

The wealthy are doing fine out of the credit crunch, while we the people, in our ignorance of how Thatcher and the Bliar pimped our nation to the transnational capitalist class over the last three decades, pick up the bill for their wealth years later.  

Harvey’s theory is that Capitalism can never solve its own crisis problems – it just moves them around geographically – eventually it is the little man that gets shafted while the wealthy just go on getting wealthier. This is classic Marx – all that has really happened since his day is that Capitalism has become more complex, some may say convoluted, but at its root – Capital will always make the little man pay for his wealth accumulation.

Harvey argues that any sensible person right now would join an anti capitalist organisation. If you decide to join one, an interesting debate would be ‘what level of violence is it acceptable to use against the Capitalist class and their Tory apologists in order to get your money back?’

Of course Harvey has his critics, and you might like to read the commentary below the video…