Friday, 31 October 2014

The air that I breathe

The recent air pollution event in Bristol on 28 and 29 October highlighted the very serious health effects. Each year the official figures show that 29,000 people die prematurely in our country because of air pollution, equating to hundreds of people in Bristol. Second only to smoking as an environmental cause of death. More details from the Word Health organisation here.

Up to one in five of all lung cancers are caused by air pollution. Children are particularly vulnerable as they get a bigger dose per unit of body mass. Children need clean air to develop and flourish (more here). Those already suffering ill-health eg from asthma, bronchitis, heart problems or obesity and so on are at particular risk - though air pollution causes coughing, chest pains and lung irritation in everyone.

It’s a stark reminder that people are an integral part of the environment and that their health and wellbeing are dependent upon it. Decision makers like Bristol's Mayor, Councillors, MPs, MEPs, Ministers and Secretaries of State need to make connections between: patterns and types of development, such as large supermarkets; car dependency and congestion; poor public transport, walking and cycling options; air pollution; poor health; reduced wellbeing and quality of life; and earlier death. They need to act in accordance with the seriousness, scale and persistence of the problems (see articles on transport here).



Greens haven’t campaigned against air pollution just because its an environmental issue – its also a development, transport, planning, economic, health and social issue (more details here). It needs to be tackled by joined up thinking (systems thinking), which we so clearly have not done if we just look around our neighbourhoods, the city and the country.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Earning a living

Wages that can be lived on doesn't sound like too much to ask for does it. However, millions in the UK don't receive pay that covers the cost of living - whilst the very rich are getting even richer. The Living Wage Foundation which promotes the adoption of a living wage states that its value is now £8.80 per hour in London and £7.65 elsewhere in the UK. In comparison the legally set national minimum wage is £6.50 for those over 21 yrs, £5.31 for 18-20 yrs, £3.79 if under 18 yrs and £2.73 for apprentices of 16-18 yrs (19 yrs if in the first yr).


The significant difference between the living wage and the minimum wage leaves many people unable to meet their needs, dependent on benefits on which there is a squeeze, taking on dodgy loans, getting into debt - with growing numbers using food banks.  Unlike the living wage, the minimum wage does not tackle poverty. The living wage-minimum wage differential is not fair because being fair means meeting needs now and into the future - being decent, caring and honest in giving dues. Meeting needs now and into the future is at the core of sustainability.

Political leaders on the whole sign up to the principle of the living wage. However, current and previous governments have presided over the development of a large pool of labour which is paid poverty wages. Tony Dyer puts it well, observing in the Autumn 2014 Bristol Green News that under a Labour Government in 2004 Bristol South had two of the ten most deprived neighbourhoods in the city - and by 2010 it had eight. He describes how this is not just due to unemployment, given that Bristol South has an employment rate of 79%, above both the city and UK average. He concludes that the deprivation is significantly due to Bristol South wages being well below the UK average with more than 20% earning below the living wage. Tony advocates turning the minimum wage into a genuine living wage, thus enabling people to meet the cost of living and lead decent lives.

We need to aspire to widening what is included in the assessment of a living wage and to reducing the difference between the minimum and maximum wages earned. Needs are those factors required to enable people not just to survive but to thrive, flourish and prosper. They go beyond the basics of food, water, warmth, shelter to the range of wider physical, mental and social factors that produce wellbeing. The promotion of wellbeing and  the ability to meet present and future needs is a key feature of the green aim of sustainability.

 
BBC article on the living wage.


Living Wage Foundation homepage.

Living Wage Wikipedia entry.