N30 day of action for pensions justice

I made it to about midday yesterday and had to do something. I called Mr R at work.

‘I can’t sit here doing nothing,’ I said, ‘I may not be a public sector worker any more but I need to be there supporting them.’ Mr R sounded utterly  unsurprised.

‘Text me when you’re on your way home,’ he sighed. ‘Oh and try not to get kettled.’ 

I packed water, my camera and a warm hat and was up at Charing Cross within the half hour. I joined the march at The Strand and zipped open my jacket to reveal my lime green Unison t-shirt, a relic from March 26th.

We wandered down to Victoria Embankment where representatives from various unions gave speeches. It was good hearing from ordinary representatives of various professions: the nurse, the probation officer and the doctor proudly in their uniforms. London Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone popped up for a chat.

Speeches over, we politely filed off back down the road, banners neatly propped against trees. The majority of the marchers headed straight for the pubs for some post rally cheer and the rest of us wandered back to the tube. So much for the notices advising demonstrators to use tubes stations further afield to avoid a crush- I was the only marcher in my tube carriage all the way home.

There was a huge police presence and Trafalgar Square was closed up tighter than  George

Osborne’s purse. I loved seeing hordes of bored police officers climbing into their riot vehicles, McDonald’s bags clutched tightly in their hands.

Like my experience of the March 26th march, this was a polite but angry gathering of ordinary people fed up at having their careers mucked about. And I’m sorry Jeremy Clarkson if think that we should be shot for that. Yes I know you were trying to be ‘funny’ but you were wide of the mark. Oh and that ‘damp squib’ of a strike as the prime minister arrogantly called it saw over 2 million people striking and 50,000 alone on the demonstration in London. The only damp thing about yesterday was the weather. Wake up Mr. C and listen to the people.

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So comrades come rally

Today millions of public sector workers are striking over pensions.

In the borough where I used to work every school bar one is closing completely or has part closures. These include faith school, academies and special schools. I know some of these head teachers would ensure their schools remained open through snow or illness and would rather snog Michael Gove than close their schools. Today however the schools are closed and the teachers striking over pension changes.

Today public sector workers are marching, rallying and picketing. Many of them will have never been on strike before but this time it feels necessary. Like those head teacher in my ex borough they want to demonstrate their anger and dissatisfaction at the pension changes. It’s indisputable that public sector pensions have to change but the changes are going too far too fast. We Love Local Government explains this far better than I.

Apart from changes to pensions I think the public sector also just wants to make its voice heard. Since the coalition government came into power they’ve constantly criticised the public sector and have branded them feckless and lazy;  greedy pension grabbers that shirk the real world of hard work for a cushy time being babysat by the state.

The government response to this day of action has been one of that teacher who says, ‘you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let the government down but most of all you’ve let the public down.’ If I were them I’d be a bit worried at the anger that has provoked such a massive walk out rather than threatening to withdraw their offer over reforms. But I guess that’s why I’m not in politics. My ego is sadly just not vast enough.

I’ve mentioned before that when I went into the public sector it wasn’t for the pensions or the perks or even the holidays. I wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in children’s lives. I felt I could best do this in the state sector.  As a new teacher of 22 I didn’t care about a pension because it felt like retirement was a million years away (it still is now that the age of retirement is getting higher and higher) and took a big chunk of my wage each month that might be better spent on having fun.

But now after a whole career spent in the public sector I’ve been left high and dry. I don’t pay into a government pension any more because that jo has gone and I have no job to strike from today. But the public sector is where my heart lies so I’m with everyone who strikes today. Good luck and maybe just maybe the government will listen for once.

‘Arise, ye workers from your slumber,
Arise, ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders,
and at last ends the age of cant!
Away with all your superstitions,
Servile masses, arise, arise!
We’ll change henceforth the old tradition,
And spurn the dust to win the prize!
So comrades, come rally,
And the last fight let us face.
The Internationale,
Unites the human race.’

The Internacionale

Academies on a (sausage) roll

It’s strange to think that only a few years ago most school meals were pitifully unbalanced, unhealthy and unappetising. As a new local authority Healthy Schools adviser I did my best to persuade the contract managers and the providers to up their game but to no avail. I was told constantly that schools were happy with meals. They weren’t.  They were very unhappy with meals but because there was no comprehensive complaint system their complaints went unaddressed and the meals remained poor. Parents and children voted with their taste buds and chose packed lunches. Children on free school meals weren’t so lucky. 

Then Jamie Oliver came along and added his voice to the debate. Because it was Jamie, people started listening and agreeing that the food in our schools was not good enough. In the borough where I worked this call was taken up by parents who demanded that the local authority ensure their children had better food. To cut a long story short, a huge battle ensued with demonstrations, confrontations and demands but the parents were right. Their children should have nutritional, tasty food in school that sets them up for learning. Standards in school food should apply for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Coupled with the then government’s commitment to extended services, children in wraparound care would be fed well and healthily. Because of parent power, we were one of the initial authorities to improve the menus and reinstate well-equipped school kitchens at huge cost. Unfortunately many schools don’t have adequate cooking kitchens because following the privatisation of school meals contracts in the 1980s they only needed warming cupboards or serving hatches.

The government eventually listened to Jamie and the parents. They set up the School Food Trust to regulate food and offer support and training to staff. I remember going to one of the huge dinner lady training sessions at Lord’s cricket ground. It was amazing seeing all those women committed to cooking better food all in one huge session watching celebrity chefs demonstrate cooking techniques and chattering excitedly about recipes on the tube home. These are the ladies that went from opening a pack of frozen fishy feet (yup, really) and bunging them in the oven to preparing freshly cooked meals brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables.

When the School Food Trust brought in nutrient standards, every recipe had to be nutritionally analysed to ensure the correct number of vitamins and mineral went into every balanced meal.

It’s not been an easy path to healthy eating in schools. Schools meal take up went down initially and schools have had to work really hard to persuade students to give the food a go. Schools put on taster sessions, healthy eating, workshops, award prizes and hold theme days. Unfortunately newspapers pounce gleefully onto the school meals aren’t working bandwagon and regular bring up the story of the Rotherham mums pushing burgers through the school fence. Shame they don’t ever mention the hundreds of parents who happily pay for good school meals that their children enjoy.

As part of my job I used to visit schools to see how well they were doing in terms of health and wellbeing. On these visits I observed mealtimes and checked menus. Luckily I had a nutritionist colleague who checked menus for compliance and supported school meal staff with their promotion of healthy food and understanding of cooking.  He was made redundant earlier this year at the same time as me.

I’m really disappointed to hear today that some academies are asking the government if they can reintroduce junk food items.  The government are keen for many more schools to become academies and it would be a massive step backwards to admit that healthy food isn’t really necessary for students at these academies.

The School Food Trust has released a statement urging anyone to tell them if they know of any academies returning to crisps and fizzy drinks.

You may think that we tree-hugging do-gooders need to step back and let the academies get on with it. After all, a can of Red Bull and a bag of Monster Munch are hardly going to harm a kid’s education are they? It’s a discussion I’ve had with countless teachers, head teachers and other professionals. We don’t know what the kids are eating- or not eating- at home. When a child is in school we are in loco parentis and it’s is our duty to ensure that they are safe, protected and supported in their learning. If we allow them to be stuffed full of e numbers, sugar and salt then we are failing in that duty, just as much as if we allow poor teaching to go on in schools.

It’s been a long hard slog to get to where we are in term soft school health. The government have withdrawn funding for Healthy Schools, school sports and extended services. I’m not prepared to let Gove, Cameron et al erode children’s health even further.

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for further reading about the road to better school food, have a look at the Merton Parents for better Food in Schools website.  

Autumn austerity

In spring this year our winter gas bill arrived and was ridiculously high. We’re pretty sensible about the heating, keeping it fairly low and of course switching it off at night (I’m always surprised by how many of my friends keep their heating blasting all night long) but prices had gone up and last winter was pretty cold.

 Last winter Mr R and I were both at work all day so the heating was only on in the morning for a short while, off all day and on again in the evening. This autumn/ winter however, my office is the kitchen table and given my financial situation we need to economise on the high heating costs. We’re bravely holding out on heating until the end of October which might be fine for Mr R who is from the wilds of West Yorkshire where the wind always howls and people stare and point at the sun in wonder on the one day in summer it deigns to shine up there but I’m a softy Southerner. I’m so pathetic that when we visit Mr R’s parents, my mother in law always says, ‘I put radiator on in t’spare room for you three days ago,’ but I still shiver under three duvets. One Christmas up there I spent the whole day huddled on the floor by the radiator. They’re nails those Yorkshire folk.

Being profligate with the heating is not worth the ridiculous amounts of money we have to pay for it though. I’ve ordered a little heater from Argos and will use this if I’m working at home for as long as I can handle it like some modern day Bob Cratchit. Meanwhile this is what I know about keeping warm:

  1. Wear a hat. My old guide leader gave me this piece of invaluable information the first time I went camping. I was eleven years old, thrilled to be away from home for a few days and didn’t brush my teeth once. It rained so hard and our equipment and clothes got so wet that we all spent a memorable day in the only dry place for miles, an old hut, trying to dry our sleeping bags. If you’ve ever been on guide camp you might remember that when it starts to rain you have to change out of you cosy jeans and into shorts as these are easier to dry than denim. So we went around in our shorts and t shirts in freezing temperatures and pouring rain for a week but I wore my hat. And was warm. The hat hair is a small price to pay.
  2. If you’re chilly, do some housework. I’m not a housework fan but it’s great for working up a glow. Today I climbed onto a chair and cleaned the windows in the living room. I’m warm, the windows are sparkling and the kids from the secondary school on their way to buy chips for lunch had a laugh at the mad woman cleaning windows with pages from The Guardian. Result.
  3. Wear more clothes. ‘Obvious!’ you might think but we’re so used to being warm that we’ve forgotten how to dress cosily. I was listening to a radio phone during the snow spell at the beginning of the year. A Norwegian guy phoned in and called us Brits a bunch of whingeing wimps. Our idea of a warm outfit is not the same as countries that have proper cold weather so we need to consider vests, long johns  and socks more seriously. It’s not sexy but neither are chilblains. I went to Russia a couple of years ago at the end of their winter. It was very cold but everyone is bundled up and warm and they really do wear those fur hats with the earflaps (ushanka) . Mind you, every building we went into including the hotel blasted out plenty of efficient Soviet era heat so you spend half the day just dressing and undressing. It’s exhausting.

    Sean Connery knowsh how to keep coshy in hish ushanka

  4. Shut the doors. No, not the front door. Obviously that’s shut but we’re trying to remember to shut all the internal doors so what heat there is doesn’t spend its time warming the bathroom floor or the bedroom wardrobe.
  5. Slankets and blankets. My name is Citizen R and I own a slanket. Whatever. Top tip: don’t put on your slanket and think you can walk around in it. You can’t. You will trip on the hem and end up in a heap of synthetic fabric and static on the floor.

Right time for a nice warm cup of tea and a spot of warming vacuuming.

I wonder if Mr. Cameron is wearing an extra sweater and worrying about how he’ll pay his gas bill this year.

If any readers have any more ideas on how to keep warm please add them!

 

 

Crime and punishment

Now that the riots of earlier in the week seem to have fizzled out there has been endless talk about what now. Most of this rhetoric has been about who to blame and how to punish the offenders. Callers to radio talk shows are keen to string em all up or at least ship em out to Afghanistan with nothing but their hoodies and stolen trainers.

The prime minister has declared it to be the fault of the police and the police blame cuts. Parents have come under fire for not being able to discipline their little darlings and the rest of us tut about society break down and the youth of today.

In today’s Guardian G2 Alexander Chancellor declares that teachers should shoulder the responsibility and that parents should, ‘somehow be coerced into siding with schools.’ Good luck with that and don’t forget to tune into Thursday evening’s #ukedchat on Twitter to see what real teachers think.

My local Co-op. Business as usual.

So who is to blame? I think we all need to take some responsibility here. Much as I’d like to blame everything on the government (and believe my teeth are gritted as I write that sentence ), as I wrote in my previous post before everything had really kicked off across the country, many factors have come into play. We all need to take responsibility be we parents, educators, politicians or ordinary folk about our daily business.

I also think we need to think carefully about the punishments the guilty receive. Custodial punishment needs to coupled with proper rehabilitation and restorative justice. Lock em up and throw away the key is really not going to work in the long run. I’d like to see those involved in looting working activitely. This might be cleaning up, working at the youth centre, shopping for old folk or digging flower beds. I’d also like to see them listening to those affected by what‘s happened. I think there is a view that stealing is a victimless crime but it’s important to understand how many lives have been turned upside down as people have lost their hard-won business (and all business that are still standing after the recession are hard-won) or their homes. I’d like to see looters listening to old folk who are scared to go out of their homes, families that are moving out of their homes because their afraid for their own safety and business owners and workers who are now unemployed and struggling. I’d also like to see the looters and arsonists come face to face with the guy who watched his family furniture shop that had stuff for five generations first burn and then be demolished. 

So let’s stop pointing the finger at each other and accept responsibility. It’s up to all of us to make sure this doesn’t happen again.  Are you listening Mr. Cameron?

 

 

 

Watching the people get lairy

Sometimes I think I’ve fallen asleep and woken up in the eighties. Teens sport leggings and batwing sleeves and the only money to be found is in The City. The Tory government are off on their hols and there are riots in Tottenham and Brixton.

Choose Life! The eighties are back.

2011 will be remembered as the year of the riot. The Middle East started us off with their desperate call for a voice. We’re lucky enough in the UK to be able to be able to express our views freely and to criticise the government as much as we like but peaceful demonstrations have had a habit recently of turning into violence. Students started us off at the end of last year when their demonstrations against university fees turned into a free for all. On March 26th we marched peacefully against cuts while others broke into shops, set fire to stuff and chucked things at the police.

The most recent riots started out after a peaceful demonstration from the family and friends of Mark Duggan, the man shot by police in Tottenham. What followed seems to me to indicate a general malaise. This time it wasn’t the public school-educated sons of rock stars throwing bottles at police, it was the ordinary London kids.

I’ve read several articles about the inevitability of the violence of the last couple of nights but I don’t believe a riot is ever inevitable, it’s a choice. In this case I believe it’s a series of factors that came together: long summer evenings along with the feeling that the police are against you. And surely the constant drip feed of service cuts and lack of jobs for young people are part of it. The country’s decision-makers and law-enforcers don’t care about you, your community or your future. And what the hell, you’re bored and fed up and others are out there looting nice stuff and attacking the police so you may as well join in.

My neighbour Brixton has taken a balanced view of things. The high street and tube station are closed to prevent groups gathering and local councillors, MPs and community leaders are meeting to discuss what happens now. Which is more than be said for the prime minster and the mayor of London who are away on holiday (but not together. Wouldn’t that be an interesting scenario? They could reminisce about their elite educations) and really don’t want to be interrupted by nasty things like common people protesting.

Tottenham's burning

I have no doubt however that when the communities clear things up and get those youngsters back in front of the telly where they belong, that both Cameron and Johnson will be claiming responsibility for sorting things out. Or am I being cynical?

Meanwhile I’ll be putting on a Bananarama record and slipping into Choose Life t-shirt. Because we’re living in the eighties, right?

 

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