Tagged: politics

Child poverty – London’s hidden problem

London is undeniably one of the richest and coolest cities in the world (I’m only slightly biased), receiving on average 15 million visitors a year. However, despite the fact that apartments can sell for £27m (as was recently the case in Knightsbrige, a chic area of London), the gritty truth is that London has the highest rate of child poverty in England. With 37% of the capital’s children living under the poverty line, there are more poor children in London than in Wales and Scotland combined. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ latest report predicts that the number of children living in poverty in England in 2015 will reach 2.9 million, up from 2.3 million this year. Despite these horrifying and utterly shameful statistics, the current coalition government is continuing with its proposed benefit caps, which will undoubtedly have a negative effect of the problem.

begging-london_330So, what are the consequences of child poverty, and what exactly does living in poverty in London actually mean? Whilst ‘poverty’ can be defined in many different ways, in London, families living in poverty typically have around £10 per family member per day to buy everything they need – this includes food, heating and transport costs. To put this is perspective, the average household in London would have £44 per member per day to spend. This in itself is 20% higher than the average household in the rest of the UK, which displays the massive divide between rich and poor – and even ‘middling’ and poor – which currently exists in England’s capital city. There are both long term and short-term consequences for children who live and grow up in poverty. A survey conducted amongst teachers in five of London’s poorest boroughs last year showed that almost all (95%) had talked to students who were coming to school hungry after not having had breakfast, and 60% reported buying those students food with their own money. This is frankly humiliating: the Mayor of London is spending time and energy on developments like the cable car across east London and the River Thames, solely for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists, whilst those very cable cars are passing over schools full of students whose families cannot afford to give them breakfast.

Turning up to school hungry is not just an unfortunate inconvenience: numerous studies have concluded that concentration and general academic performance are improved when students are able to focus properly in class. Down the line, this affects exam results and future prospects. If we can solve this basic problem, there will be major benefits for our country as a whole. The question is, in a time of such financial instability in England and with government economic resources stretched to their limits, how can we help bring an end to child poverty?

As a starting point, it is vital that we do not underestimate the power that large private companies such as banks can have in supporting projects such as breakfast clubs in underprivileged schools. Many schemes already exist, and they have proved very successful. One investment bank has paired up with the high street bakery chain ‘Greggs’ to provide breakfast for the students at a school in one of London’s most deprived areas who would normally be arriving at school not having eaten since the night before. This seemingly small-scale program can reap massive benefits for everybody involved, and also takes the strain off local borough resources, which are already scarce. Clearly, breakfast schemes alone will not succeed in ending child poverty in London for good, but they are definitely a positive step in the right direction. The links between private companies and these deprived schools could be part of the answer, and the private companies also gain from seeing direct results of their financial support, something they
would not normally get from their charity involvement.

However, these private businesses can never fulfil the role that the national government has: a responsibility to ensure that there is no more poverty in London. The new proposed benefit reforms which involve cutting the amount of money that families in need receive could lead to the already shocking child poverty statistics worsening, something that we absolutely cannot let happen – it is expected that 27,400 London households will be affected by the new caps. Government cuts are no simple matter, and there are always people who will not be satisfied, but it is undeniable that in this day and age, children living in poverty should take absolute priority – nothing at all can be more important. It is unacceptable that in 2014, poverty is a real problem for so many families living in England, and this is something that the government needs to keep in mind when making decisions which affect such large numbers of people in their capital.

londonphoto(photo from http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2012/02/07/london-inequality-what-would-charles-dickens-think/)



An Interview with a Proud Catalan

Catalonia, a region in the north of Spain most famous for containing Barcelona, is in the process of trying to become an independent state. There are divided opinions on the subject, so we interviewed Max, an 18 year old proud Catalan who lives just north of Barcelona, to tell us a little bit more.

1. Hola Max! What’s the current situation in Catalonia?

Hi! Well, currently Catalonia is in a sovereignist process in which we are trying to separate from Spain, to become an independent state. This process started after the massive demonstration (more than 2 million people on the streets) that was held in Barcelona the 11th of September of 2012 and the situation is now in a crucial state. The Catalan people are asking the Spanish government to let them vote in a referendum, but the answer is always no. Nevertheless, a date for the referendum has already been fixed by the Catalan government for later this year: 9/11/14.

2. Why do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?

I want Catalonia to become an independent state for many reasons. First of all, because I do not feel Spanish at all. We have our own language, flag, institutions and traditions which are almost 1000 years old. Catalonia has only been part of Spain for the last 300 years. Before being defeated by Felipe V, Catalonia was, along with Aragón and País Valencià, a sovereign country (Corona catalanoaragonesa). Through these 300 years of Spanish occupation of Catalonia, we have been abused day after day and year after year. The Catalan language and the Catalan institutions have been banned several times through these 300 years in an attack on the Catalan nation. Therefore, I don’t want to be part of a state which hates me and which has been unfair to mine.

Secondly, I want Catalonia to be an independent state also for economical reasons. Catalonia is one of the most prosperous regions of Spain, and as an Autonomous Community (AC), each year it gives a large amount of money to the Spanish government. The thing is that, although being one of the AC that gives the most money to the Spanish state, it is the one which receives the least money back. Every year Catalonia loses 16 thousand million euros to Spain. This is a very important amount of money that would prevent the Catalan government to use restrictive policies and to cut the budget if we were independent. We are also abused in many other ways. Catalan students are the ones who are given less scholarships, Catalonia is one of the the few AC with tolls, and the investments in the improvement of the railway system are ridiculous compared to those made in AC like Madrid, Andalucia or Castilla La Mancha, which are AC that give much less money to Spain than Catalonia. The centralism of Spain harms the catalan economy so much, and the situation in unsustainable.

3. Do you think it would be a problem to come from a country with such an unusual language spoken by only 11 million people? Would schools only teach in Catalan or would students learn Castilian too?

Not at all. I’m very proud of being a Catalan speaker. Catalan is such a cultivated and historical language and the fact of being bilingual is so useful. Catalan dates back to the XI century and played a great role in the Middle Ages. Great and famous novels have also been written in the region, like Tirant Lo Blanch, the first chivalry novel ever. Plus the language is spoken in four countries ( Spain, Andorra, France and Italy) which gives the language more repercussion. If Catalonia became independent, Castilian wouldn’t stop being taught in school since bilingualism is one of the things that defines Catalonia. And as former members of Spain, it would be nonsense to stop teaching Castilian.

4. When is the soonest that Catalonia could become an independent state?

I think the soonest Catalonia could be independent is 2015. Providing, of course, that the answer to the referendum were yes. If the referendum eventually couldn’t be celebrated, there’d be plebiscitary elections and 2015 would also be the soonest Catalonia could be independent.

5. Do all your Catalan friends agree with you? Do most people have strong opinions, or do some not care whether it becomes independent?

Yes, the vast majority of my friends are in favour of independence – up to 90% of them. Although there are people who don’t care very much, almost everybody has his respective opinion about the subject. And there are also some people in the region who don’t want Catalonia to become an independent state but want it to become a federal state of Spain, like the Socialist Party of Catalonia, PSC.


Read about a famous Catalan tradition here

Read about Barcelona here

Read about Catalonia’s national day here 

Read about another Catalan city, Girona, here

Read about a novel set in Catalonia here

Why is youth unemployment in Europe such a big problem?

Although the statistics vary in every European country, one thing is undeniable: something needs to be done about youth unemployment as soon as possible. Spain is one of the worst affected countries, with over 50% of 15-24 year olds currently out of work. This is a completely surreal statistic when you really think about it, and with many friends in Barcelona and Madrid, it’s a very real problem for a lot of people I know. It’s unrealistic to blame governments for every problem a country faces, but in Europe as a whole, the issue of youth unemployment does not seem to be at the forefront of politicians’ minds.

Youth unemployment can have massive consequences for a country – in both long- and short-term ways. In Spain at the moment, there is concern that the current generation of young people aged 15-24 will become known as the ‘generación perdida’, or the ‘lost generation’. Many of those who fall into this age category will never have a real ‘career’ in one field, as companies are reluctant to offer anything more than short-term contracts, and the proportion of young people who work over-qualified is worrying. Recently, a particularly worrying trend has come to light: young people leaving Bachelor’s degrees off their CVs when applying for jobs such as bartending, so that their future employer does not think it is just a holding job until something better comes along. Something is seriously wrong when people are actually downplaying their achievements just to earn some money. This age group is also now living at home for much longer, often until the age of 30, and they are therefore less independent. There rates of school dropout have also increased due to the economic crisis – when young people see that working hard and getting good grades just leads to unemployment, many think it’s not worth continuing with their education until the age of 18. This is something governments really need to address, as this is clearly one of the roots of the problem. There is also a certain amount of disillusionment with the education system – government cuts mean that teachers have bigger classes and are therefore able to devote less attention to each pupil.

It’s also not just us who are affected by youth unemployment – it is unlikely that the current youth of Europe will be able to support their parents financially in their retirement, as they will not have had stable savings throughout their adult lives.

The ‘brain drain’ is also a phenomenon that has seen in an unsurprising increase in the past few years, in Spain in particular, as the country has been hit especially hard in the area of scientific research. Due to a lack of funding, Spanish research centres have stopped employing so many scientists and engineers, and these young people choose to go to countries like Germany, where work is more readily available. However, this can have serious consequences for the countries from which the young professionals flee – in the future, when the crisis is over, there will be a large sector of top scientists missing, and those who leave are unlikely to return to Spain. It’s not just scientific research which is affected – the majority of my Spanish friends who are planning on becoming bankers, doctors and journalists want to study and then work in the UK or in America.


The Dutch Parliamentary Elections…

Today, the voters of Holland will be electing their next Prime Minister and government. The result is likely to be very close, between the current Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Diedrik Samson. Rutte is head of the VVD Liberal party      – like the Conservative party in England – and Samson is head of the Labour party. The  main point is that both parties support the official Dutch stance towards the Eurozone crisis, which is similar to the German position. They say that they want to keep the Euro currency but they also expect Southern European countries to cut their spending.

On the other hand, the 2 more extreme parties in Holland, including one which even wants to leave the Euro currency and bring back the Dutch Guilder, appear to be losing support. The results will be out tomorrow…

The voting age is 18, so hopefully there’ll be teenagers voicing their views too!


(left: Mark Rutte, right: Diedrik Samson)

September 11 – Catalonia’s National Day

Today is the National Day of Catalonia, a region in the north-east of Spain (where Barcelona is).  Originally for commemorating the defeated Catalan troops in the War of the Spanish Succession (from 1701 to 1714), the national day was brought back in 1980 by the Catalonian government after Franco’s dictatorship ended.  Now, on the National Day there are events and celebrations in Catalan villages as well as demonstrations in favour of Catalonia becoming an independent state, separate to Spain. Many Catalonians want independence from Spain, including teenagers. Today in Barcelona, there’s a big, non-violent march through the centre of the city( in which people of all ages will participate) where people are expressing their views. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Spanish government will react…