"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Thursday 24 February 2011

In the Shadows of the Workhouses

Once again this blog results from a comment I made during a discussion on another excellent blog, this time by from Sue Marsh: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2011/02/nhs-camerons-albatross.html If you haven't visited Sue's blog yet http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/ you really should. After I made the comment I wanted to expand on it and so this blog began to form

A bit of explanation first. Most of us have hobbies/interests, although perhaps mine sometimes take the form of obsessions! As the years have passed I have realised however how often these interests dovetail, to name a few: Victorian Fiction, Workhouses, Victorian Religion, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, H.G.Wells, History of the Early Days of the Labour and Trade Union Movement, Edwardian Society, Family History.

In the nine months of this Coalition Government, like many others, I have listened to and read the pronouncements of David Cameron and his colleagues with increasing disbelief. Taking into account the inevitable 'Yaa boo' of a new government blaming the previous administration for every ill in the country [so far the snow in December didn't seem to be Gordon Brown's absolute fault] there seemed to be almost a determination to dismantle society as we know it, despite the 'ideals' for a 'Big Society', which many are still saying they do not understand.

Last week we had the unedifying spectacle of the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman saying 'We got it wrong'in Parliament after half a million people signed a petition protesting against the proposals to change the ownership of 637,000 acres of woodlands from public to private. There is an ongoing protest, with petitions
[ http://www.petitiononline.com/ukcghq/petition.html ]and massive campaigns on social networking sites for example, to stop the proposed closures of Coastguard stations and the selling-off of the Air Sea Rescue Service. The privatisation of the latter had to be halted when it was revealed that "commercially sensitive information" had been leaked to the interested 'purchasers'.

Nearly every night on our local news there is another village or town in our area holding a protest to try and keep their local library open. Especially in small villages the libraries are so important as a 'hub', providing a centre for not just books and computer access, important as that is - but for reading and other groups, holiday activities, local exhibitions etc. Do those in government ever have to use a library - or can they afford any book that they read a review about in the newspapers they can afford to buy every day [no going to the library to read the daily newspaper for them!] Do their children ever have to go to the local library to use a computer in the holidays to finish a school project or have they got one or more at home they can use?

And of course I haven't started on the cuts to the front line services, the NHS, the Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit, Student fees. I don't need to point out that if we are really so much in need of money that these things will save their are other ways this could be found: examination of tax avoidance of large multi-nationals and defence spending just for a start......

Someone in our blog discussion suggested we are going back to the way of life of the 1930s but I would suggest it is worse than that, and leaving the 21st and 20th centuries akin to going back to the 1830s, the 19thCentury. Here is my reasoning:

When the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in 1834 adjoining parishes were linked together in unions to adminster jointly 'welfare' to the poor & destitute of their parishes. This was a way to save money by pooling resources by being more 'efficient' [a good 19thC buzzword - but heard more and more in the mouths of Cameron et al nowadays] Of course this resulted too often in mass catering etc being costed and delivered at the cheapest possible rates [Workhouse records make fascinating readings at County records offices] and the stringent rules to get admitted into a workhouse resemble too closely the sort of assessments claimants have to undergo now.

Of course in the 19thC there was the notion of the 'deserving poor' and thus too this led to the idea that there must be 'undeserving poor'. At this time poverty was commonly thought to be a sign of God's disapproval [Calvinst/Protestant Work Ethic] so those born poor and staying poor really should not deserve or expect much help. God showed his approval of the 'good' by awarding them with riches but expected them to re-invest rather than fritter it all away, and if this re-investment led to further riches, well more and more approval was being shown! What an excellent creed for the then burgeoning Capitalist society! Of course it was believed that the rich had a 'paternalistic' duty to look after the poor [only enough to enable them sufficient health and strength to provide factory fodder, to keep them in luxury would have been against God's plan, after all] Another term for this 'welfare' was/is 'Benevolent Capitalism'. [Recently Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight asked a 'Suit' from the Institute of Directors what had happened to Benevolent Capitalism and he replied 'Oh, I think we have moved on from there' - but in the proposed 'Big Society' with all the welfare reforms what will replace it?]

In a really perverse way, the 1834 Act was the beginning of a kind of Welfare State in that it 'standardized' across the country the provisions of each union for their needy but left individual unions to set the spending on their 'paupers'. As long as an individual union kept its inhabitants alive all was well - officialdom only interfered if mortality rates rose too high as in the case in the Somerset workhouse in Bridgwater in 1839. Those able to work and provide for themselves were deserving poor, those feckless enough to not be able to find work [even in times of agricultural depression for example] or becoming unable to work through age or incapacity were undeserving poor so admittance to an institution like the workhouse was actually rather good of the society which could have left them to starve. Statistics show that at times the mortality rate in prisons was 3% whilst in workhouses it was 40%, so multi-occupation was not the reason for the high mortality.

Why am I giving you all a history lesson? Because it seems to me as if the present Government wants to keep today's 'needy' on subsistence levels but with not enough money for 'luxuries' as a punishment for not being born rich/becoming ill. Excuse me if I sound cynical, we should learn lessons from the mistakes of history - not return to them. Why shouldn't those who can't afford 'luxuries' like books, medicine, education, walking in the forests, rescue at sea, help when ill, help with social services etc etc expect those who are lucky enough to earn enough/have inherited wealth to help them out. In a 'Big Society' where 'We are all in it Together' it would still seem that - to misquote George Orwell - 'We are all Equal - it is just that Some are far more Equal than Others'.

For more information and history on Workhouses - if I haven't already bored you silly - please go to this great website: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/

The photograph above is of the entrance to Williton Workhouse, W.Somerset. Taken on a beautiful day, with tubs of flowers in the foreground - try to imagine entering here on a cold, wet day with one's possessions [if any] taken from one and being issued with a sort of 'sackcloth uniform' and being set to 'picking hemp' on a diet of little more than cold porridge..... There is a heartbreaking fictional account of the way old people were separated from their spouses - in the "Men" and "Women's" wings in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

Saturday 19 February 2011

Dear Mr Cameron: In Defence of the NHS

Most of this blog was originally the basis of a comment I made on a really interesting piece: Why Cameron’s funding for the NHS will be worse than Thatcher’son the excellent Liberal Conspiracy blog: http://liberalconspiracy.org

Before the groans go up ‘well she would say that wouldn’t she’, please read on:

Dear Mr Cameron

I really cannot let you keep pronouncing about the need for cuts right, left and centre [bit of a pun there but never mind] especially when the NHS is getting dragged into the equation, with added fears of 'back door privatisation'. So as a consumer, customer, taxpayer, voter - really whatever 'label' you want to hang around my neck please spare a few minutes for my thoughts.

This is not about figures, charts and projections. There is always money to be found quickly for a war [witness Iraq invasion] so forget the aching ‘need’ to cut NHS spending to plug the deficit. Just look at some of the facts.

No-one would say that the present system is perfect – but dismantling it is not the answer. We are still the envy of most of the rest of the world – and I say this having lived in a different country and experienced the sheer bureaucracy and inequality of the system there – where the richest got the best drugs and the poorest, well basically suffered… and that was in a country where health care insurance was compulsory but {a} one could ‘decide’ [tongue in cheek there] how much cover one wanted dependent on how much one could afford [that is why my tongue was in my cheek, obviously] and {b} once on that cover the insurance company could not refuse to renew your cover/raise the premiums extortionately once you became too old or ill to be profitable. Nor could it refuse to cover a new arrival into the family if the new baby had an expensive medical problem. Both these things happen with most private medical insurances in the UK.

Sure, there are reforms that should be made in the present system and some of those reforms may save money and some may cost money – swings and roundabouts. Every public and private institution or business needs ongoing checks and balances to ensure efficiency and that modern skills/methodology are maintained. Common sense.

Some hospitals/doctors/nurses/physiotherapists/outpatients departments/etc etc may be better than others – but then some bus services/department stores/hotels/builders/car mechanics/etc etc may be better than others. What we should all be doing is not knocking the NHS but supporting it and discussing ways to improve it. If a hospital is deemed to be 'failing' in one area the reasons why should be thoroughly investigated and then the lessons learnt used across the board in all other hospitals. Perfection, whilst difficult to achieve, should be something strived for but may take a few 'attempts' on the way.

Yesterday we heard that two major London hospitals - one of them a teaching hospital and centre of excellence - are to cut jobs in the government spending cuts. All the government false pre-election promises etc can be read about by clicking on the blog title above or cutting and pasting the following link: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/health-news/2011/02/18/governments-false-nhs-promises-laid-bare-as-1-000-job-losses-announced-115875-22930883/
I really cannot think of a valid reason for this action other than spite on the part of the government.

There is a whole area upon which the government does not seem keen to get too involved - drugs bought by the NHS. Yes we hear that such-and-such a drug is too expensive etc etc. We do not hear so often about the massive profits made by drug companies, many of whom pay their taxes abroad and not in this country where those profits were made. If these profits were examined/and or fairer taxes paid would drugs become cheaper and therfore more available to more patients? Just a thought.
Alternative medicine such as homeopathy, which is a much cheaper alternative, is constantly derided by lobbyists from drug companies - one has to ask why this? The NHS Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, [photograph above - http://www.uclh.nhs.uk/OurServices/OurHospitals/RLHIM/Pages/Home.aspx] has been in existence since 1849. Homeopathy may not suit everyone - but then neither does
all allopathic medicine.

There is also an area which a lot of GPs would like to spend more money but are prevented -[oh dear the puns are coming thick and fast] - that of preventative medicine. Another cheaper alternative but maybe one that would take longer for its results to show - and one which therefore a government would not want to undertake for its 'statistics' sake?

I made a comment in another place that Aneurin Bevan must be weeping in Heaven at what you are trying to do to the NHS, Mr Cameron. I am not sure if he believed in Heaven but he is certainly in my Heaven and we have a duty to see that he is happy there. OK a bit sentimental, so if you like it better, Nye loved a drink so lets drink to the NHS! You said the NHS was safe with you, Mr C - but please remember the words of Nye when he started the NHS: "We now have the moral leadership of the world".

Yours Dispairingly, Elizannie

Tuesday 8 February 2011


It should be a general rule not to blog when incandescent with rage. Which is why I am doing so...

I have just listened to a radio 4 edition of 'Your and Yours' on the proposed cuts in library services. I have of course already made my views on these cuts known on this blog site. The programme was generally well balanced and there were intereviews with, for example, a councillor from Doncaster who said he did not want to cut library services but in a choice with cutting social services libraries had to lose out.

However one of the studio guests was a 'conservative commentator' [according to Wikipedia] Richard D.North. He is with the Institute of Economic Affairs (as media fellow) and also with the conservative Social Affairs Unit, where he blogs on art, film and social issues.

His remarks, not so much on the need to close libraries but how they were used at the present time were, I felt, frankly insulting to the general population. He showed just out of touch he is - and also one would suppose those he is advising - with the 'constituency' of library users. I am not going to repeat all his remarks because to get them into context one needs to listen to the whole programme - this should be able to be accessed at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qps9/episodes/2011. However I will just say that a few of his suggestions were that:
'The poor' could get Kindles [cheapest price around £100] and have books downloaded onto them to replace libraries

'Grannies' could have some sort of listening devices supplied and an SD card sent to them once a week to replace 'listening books' in libraries. He doesn't seem to have grasped that the reason that library cuts are on the cards is to save money so buying listening devices and SD cards does not seem a 'goer'.

He also made some sort of suggestion that it is mainly the middle-classes that use libraries, not 'the poor' and thus the middle-classes can afford to buy books.
Anyway I sent a complaint to the programme [aren't I grumpy!] and if anyone is wondering whether to also complain - please do!:

Photograph courtsy of The Guardian

Monday 7 February 2011

What is Happening to Our Green and Pleasant Land?

I have said too many times that this blog started off with the intention of being mainly for literary matters, but has become over whelmed with matters political [a literary blog has recently come into being at 'Clarice's Book Page' www.villiersroad.blogspot.com]

The photograph above shows a couple of - well protestors is the wrong word, so I will say participants! - in Saturday's #savelibraries day when lots of us who regularly use libraries were determined to show our solidarity against the proposed cuts. Up and down the country there were all sorts of activites from authors and poets doing 'read-ins', to fancy dress attendanees to just lots of library 'customers' making sure that they visited their local library on an extra day and taking photographs and posting them on the internet to prove it! Others tweeted and facebooked their disapproval, using the #savelibraries hashtag, others blogged [some rather late like me] Miss Ellie-Mae wrote a heartbreaking blog about the proposed closure of the local library where she grew up, do read it:

Of course the libraries threat is just one of the many proposed cuts/fears against which the anti-cuts march on March 26th will be protesting. Details of this TUC Demonstration can be found at http://anticuts.org.uk/?p=2121 or click on the blog title above. Another reason for marching is the #saveourforests worry and the video below is of the Billy Bragg version of 'This Land is Our Land', the great Woody Guthrie Song. I'll let Billy tell you why I have put this on here, this is from his facebook page:

Heard over the weekend that the Tory MP for the Forest of Dean, Mark Harper, held a meeting on the planned sell-off of the forest on Friday night. Given only 24 hours notice, the protesters packed the hall with as many again locked out. They sang my British version of 'This Land Is Your Land' and, after being confronted with nothing but opposition to the govt plans, police had to escort the Tory out of the back door.

Links for protests and petitions re the woodlands privatisation:
http://saveourforests.co.uk/ http://www.saveourwoods.co.uk/ http://38degrees.org.uk/ http://saveenglands/..

So what is happening to our green and pleasant land? Not to mention [as I have!] the threats to our Coastguard stations and Air Sea Search and Rescue Services.

Friday 4 February 2011

How our World keeps turning

A discussion on facebook started me off thinking. I wrote 'The World Turned Upside Down [3]' a couple of days ago as a result of not being able to sleep that night. This blog is the result of thinking too much in the early in the morning!

The discussion was about 'The Big Society'. I have already expressed my feelings about this but here I am again:

Every time I hear the words 'The Big Society' I want to lay on the floor and kick and scream. Without the Voluntary Sector and all the 'small people' [as opposed to The Big Society - that was supposed to be ironical...] how the heck does Cameron think we have managed to keep going for all these years?

I think of all the people selling 'flags' and doing house to house collections for charities, all those running - for example - Gateway Clubs, Brownie packs, Parents Fund Raising Associations in schools etc etc etc

I think about all the young carers who are helping keep families together by doing jobs and supporting their parent[s] before and after school.

I think about all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, good friends who help out with child care because parents need to work but cannot afford 'official' child care.

I think about all the neighbours who 'pop in' to the elderly because the social services are over stretched and cannot get to everyone often enough.

I think about all the people who have given up their time for years and years to work as local councillors, trade union officials etc etc. Often with very little thanks but lots of abuse for not getting what those they represent want.

I think about those in jobs like Postmen, Librarians, Social Workers, Nurses, Doctors, Teachers who already do that 'extra bit' to help their 'customers'/Clients/whatever the latest expression is, yet are now facing cuts/performance drives/whatever the latest 'threat' is.

I think about those working for the minimum wages for long hours with very little time to do anything else. And those working for better wages and commuting for long hourse with the same result.

I think about those on various benefits who would like to do some volunteer work but are excluded because they have to 'available for work' at all times.

I think - with hope - about all the young people who are banding together to protest about the Government cuts and the older people who will join in the big march in London on March 26th [http://anticuts.org.uk/ or click on the blog title above]

All these 'little people' already keep our world spinning and probably would like to help out with the 'Big Society' but really cannot fit in anymore hours in the day. Likewise those who are already working full time to enable themselves and/or their dependants to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

I think Mr Cameron, you and your buddies really should think again.

The photo above is of Elizannie thinking....

Thursday 3 February 2011

Robert Tressell

Today is the centenary of the death of Robert Tressell. 31 MPs have put down an Early Day Motion:

That this House notes the centenary of the death of Robert Noonan (Tressell) on 3 February 2011 interred in a pauper's grave in Walton, Liverpool; recognises the significance of his seminal work, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists within the wider Labour movement; and applauds both the work of the Robert Tressell Society and the commemorative programme of events organised by Liverpool City Council to appropriately recognise his historical and literary importance,

To see who signed this edm go to http://www.edms.org.uk/edms/2010-2011/1303.htm

Who was Robert Tressell?

Many of those on the Socialist spectrum of the political scene will revere Tressell. Many others - including Socialists -will never have heard of him. I could just point you to the Tressell website [click on blog title above or go to: http://www.1066.net/tressell/ [with lovely music!]

I have 'lived with him' since I was a child. He was a kind of bard 'oft quoted' in the Socialist household in which I was raised. As soon as I was old enough I read the book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and cried a lot and thanked goodness and the Socialist movement that such times as described would never return. I made pilgrimages later in life to Hastings ['Mugsborough' of the novel] to see his fabulous art work - firstly in the basement of the Town Museum and then later in the [proper] displays dedicated to him when at last Hastings honoured and realised what a great man it had not looked after all those years before and had tried to forget for many years after.

As this coalition government seems intent on punishing the poor for being poor, this book should be read again, or listened to on audio tape, as an awful warning from History. What it was like to live before the Welfare State. Before even a most basic Old Age Pension. The comedian Johnny Vegas was responsible for an excellent production of this a couple of years ago on the BBC and the audio tape can be bought. I wrote a 'summer reading' blog on this last May and make no apology for republishing it here.

The book is recommended by people as diverse [and lovely!] as Ricky Tomlinson and the MP Stephen Twigg. It was been chosen as his book for a Desert Island on 'Desert Island Discs' by Johnny Vegas.

It is *not* a great work of literature but it is never the less a seminal work. So I will cross-post this on the Clarice page at www.villiersroad,blogspot.com

25th May 2010 http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/05/ragged-trousered-philanthropists.html
Have decided to become dictatorial and recommend summer reading on facebook, twitter, various blogs by other people and here on my own: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell http://amzn.to/dBjzQD Many 'Old Labour' party members claim it changed their lives/caused them to become Socialists. I worry that the Condem government policies may see a return to many of the problems highlighted in this novel, albeit in a more 'modern' form {OK so we may not have workhouses anymore but some form of state interference may cause pensioners to lose all that they have saved before any State help becomes available}

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The World Turned Upside Down [3]

Picture taken from the UKUncut website: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/ Click on the blog title above to go straight to their website

When I couldn't sleep last night I got to thinking:

I thought about a world where big UK firms are being for chased for the tax they owe and are legally avoiding as reported on Newsnight - yet the press the next day seem more interested in reporting Paxo's slip of the tongue during the item.

I thought about the suggested cuts in the BBC World Service - which has been the 'voice of freedom' to so many including Aung San Suu Kyi during her house arrest in Burma for all those years. Not to mention all those ex-pat Brits and early risers here in the UK.

I thought about the proposed cuts to the NHS by the part of the Coalition whose leader - David Cameron - when in Opposition declared:
We [the Tories] are the party of the NHS
I thought about the way the NHS saved my life twice when an op in a private hospital went wrong due to the discovery of my rare genetic blood disorder and hope the NHS will still be around to help my children out in the same circumstances.

I thought about the news of so many libraries closing. Here in East Anglia places have already been announced and I thought of the hours spent in local libraries, studying for my degree, taking my children to reading clubs rung by the excellent staff, running blookclubs and reading to groups of children myself. Does this government want a literate population. Perhaps just a rich one?

I thought about the announcement of cuts to the coastguard services all around the shores of this Island nation. We already have a charity running our Lifeboat service. And a proposed privatisation of our Search and Rescuse service. If this was a plot for an Ealing Comedy no-one would go to see it or laugh.

I thought about the current threat in cuts to the budgets in policing, fire services, social services, welfare services,all the Benefits and more.....

I thought about the spiteful decision to make cuts and changes to the Disability Living Allowance.

I thought about John McDonnell MP sitting for six hours in the House of Commons yesterday hoping to speak against the Tories' privatisation of NHS but not called to speak. I thought about him putting down Early Day Motion in Parliament calling on the Home Secretary to launch a public inquiry into the police use of CS gas on UKuncut protestors in Oxford Street on Sunday.

I thought about the fear that our ancient woodlands and forests were going to 'privatised' and we would no longer be able to ramble and enjoy their peace.

I thought about all the pensioners who have suffered because the firms/insurance companies with whom they have been relying/saving for their old age have gone into administration or 'lost' their investments. 

I thought about the pensioners and those on benefits waiting at night in the supermarkets, waiting for the out of date food to be reduced.

I thought about the future students who will be too worried about the debts they will incur to apply for university places. I thought about the 'right to education' and realise that right will only be available to those with the financial ability not necessarily those with the educational ability.

I thought about Marx' 19th century slogan
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need[s]
which to this 21st century Coalition government seems to have been rephrased to
From each according to his least financial ability, to each according to his least need

I remembered my hippy days in the '60s when we thought that Peace and Love could win the day and Justice and Equality would naturally prevail. And it still could.

And then I thought about all those young people, middle-aged people, older people who are banding together to fight these cuts. And I especially thought about the young people in UKUncut [click on the blog title to go straight to their web site] like Ellie-Mae and Tony who were so eloquent in the film and in the discussion on Newsnight and I really thought maybe we do have hope.

We all have to work together to protest about all these cuts and unfairness.

Apologies to the following songs and songwriters praised at:
The World Turned Upside Down [1]http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/06/world-turned-upside-down-1.html
The World Turned Upside Down [2]http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/06/world-turned-upside-down-2.html