Category: Social Conscience

socialist-jesus

A Message To Christians For The Election

Christianity and Conservative politics are completely incompatible.

Voting for the Tory party and for Theresa May is electing a government that doesn’t care about the ordinary people.  A government that wants to cut funding to vital services such as the NHS and the police, services that take care of us all, but importantly look after the more vulnerable people in society.  Cutting those services is in direct opposition to a Christian belief where Christians are tasked with taking care of those less fortunate than themselves.

For years the Tories have mismanaged our economy, paying billions to prop up bankers, but not offering considerably less to help nurses. Their ongoing desire to reduce the state and allow big companies to exploit our systems has increased the gap between the elite and the rest of us – and we all know the love of money is the root of all evil.

And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Luke 3:11

You might be a Conservative voter.  You might not realise or fully appreciate the harm that party does when in control of our society.  You should care very deeply though, as it is set to get much worse.

The growth of food banks in the UK shows no sign of slowing.  Many of these are funded and operated by local churches up and down the country.  The Tory government expects you to foot the bill and pick up the fallout of their damaging policy decisions.

The Conservative election pledges on the environment are in stark contrast to Christian beliefs too.  They want to provide MPs with an option to bring back fox hunting and allow fracking.  They have been criticised by the Green Party for a ‘scandalous’ lack of focus on the environment. Christian’s first purpose on this planet was to look after it – the Tories are not the party to make this a reality.

 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Genesis 2:15

If you are a Christian Tory voter, you should consider very carefully how you can possibly rationalise the two beliefs.  You should consider very carefully whether what the bible and Christian teaching tells you about helping the poorest and weakest, about the feasibility of a rich person to enter heaven, and about the obligations to care for our environment.

If those things matter to you as a Christian – and if they don’t you should consider finding a new religion – then your vote should be for anyone but the Tories on Thursday.  There is even a website to help you work out the best way to vote to do just that – https://www.tactical2017.com/

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Acts 4:32

What Would Jesus Do?

 

(image credit)



vote-election

A Guide To Voting: General Election 2017

Have you read the manifesto for each of the main political parties? No?  Not sure what a manifesto is or who the main political parties are?  Don’t panic – we’ve digested all the key points from the Conservative (Tory), Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) and Labour party manifestos (election pledges) and made it simple to understand below.

If you’re suffering from voting fatigue, not really sure what the fuss is all about, or simple have no idea how to mark your card on June 8th at the polling booths then read on for our analysis.  We promise it’s (probably) the easiest guide to understand in the world.

First, some basics.  Feel free to scroll down if you’re not a politics beginner.

General Election Beginner’s Guide

The general election to be held on 8th June is a vote to decide which political party will run the country and make the key decisions for at least the next 5 years.  Everyone over the age of 18 and who is registered to vote is able to have a say in who they want to win.

The day of the election people will head down to their local polling stations (often a school or church hall) and vote for who they want as their local MP – the main choices are between Labour, Lib Dem, and Tory but some areas have strong support for the Green party and Scotland is predominantly the Scottish National party.

The main difference between the political parties is their views on how the country should be managed in terms of the relationship between private companies and the state.  This is sometimes referred to as capitalism versus socialism.  Capitalism favours private companies and a small state, socialism favours nationalised companies (a larger state) and more equality.

If you imagine a horizontal line then Capitalism (the Tory party) is regarded as being on the right and Socialism (the Labour party) is on the left.  The Lib Dems are somewhere in the middle but slightly more towards the Labour side. This might make sense of the terms ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’.

left-wing-right-wingCriticisms of the left:

People tend to use the argument that privatisation is good as it creates market forces that compete to find efficiencies in services and production – thereby driving down costs for consumers.  They say the wealth created by people at the top will ‘trickle down’ to improve wealth and life for everyone else.

The criticism of the left and the large state is that these market forces don’t exist without private companies and the state is inefficient and unable to develop as quick as the private sector.

Criticisms of the right:

It tends to be much easier to criticise the right. A small state and deregulation of markets to allow privatisation has seen huge growth in inequality in the UK.  The ‘trickle down’ argument has been shown to not work in practice and putting large amounts of power and wealth in the hands of a small group of individuals is incredibly dangerous.

Privatisation of traditionally public services (trains, water companies, energy suppliers) has not seen the desired effect in terms of forcing down prices and improving services.  In fact the taxpayer now pays more to private rail operators in subsidies than it did when the rail system was nationalised.

The Media

Unfortunately, due to privatisation and deregulation over several decades, our media is mostly controlled by a handful of people who are very much supportive of the right wing and are being increasingly criticised for portraying labour in a negative light.

Just three companies own more than 70% of the national print circulation. One of the biggest – The Sun newspaper – is very right-wing (as it is owned by Rupert Murdoch) and has previously taken credit for ‘winning’ the elections for the Conservative party.

Social media is playing a more important role in political PR and has a similar problem in that there are only a handful of people controlling the information displayed and promoted through social channels.

What are the parties promising this election?

There are a number of key areas that the three main parties focus their election pledges on, these are:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Economy
  • Brexit
  • Tax/Spending
  • Immigration
  • Environment

We’ll summarise their promises for each of these areas and then provide our take on it all with a quick overview to help you decide how to vote if you don’t have time to read through the summaries or you’re struggling to make sense of it all.

Health

What does the Conservative Party say about Health?

  • Spend 8 billion pounds over 5 years to fund NHS services
  • Recover health costs from non-EU nationals
  • Invest in primary care and mental health facilities

 

What does the Labour Party say about Health?

  • Remove the NHS pay cap and invest 30 billion pounds over five years
  • Reduce waiting lists with an 18-week maximum wait for treatment
  • Increase funding to GP services
  • Make parking free in England at NHS facilities

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about Health?

  • Spend 6 billion per year on NHS services funded through a 1p rise in income tax
  • Improve waiting times for mental health services
  • Cap the cost of social care

Who gets the points?

Labour 3

Lib Dem 2

Tory 1

Our verdict:
Labour is the only party fully committing to properly funding the NHS.  If the government can spend £85 billion on bailing out bankers, it should be able to spend more than £8 billion over five years on our health.


Education

What does the Conservative Party say about Education?

  • Scrap free school meals in favour of free breakfast for primary school pupils
  • Increase schools budget by £4bn by 2022
  • End ban on new grammar schools

 

What does the Labour Party say about Education?

  • Abolish university tuition fees
  • Free school meals for all pupils
  • Bring back Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year-olds

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about Education?

  • Pledged to invest almost £7bn in schools budgets
  • Oppose new grammar schools
  • Triple the Early Years Pupil Premium to £1000 to benefit disadvantaged children

 

Who gets the points?

Lib Dem 3

Labour 2

Tory 1

Our verdict: The Tory proposal to pay for primary school breakfasts means a budget of 7p per child – 10 times less than budgets for prison food.  Labour costings have also been criticised leaving Lib Dem top of the points in this category.


Economy

What does the Conservative Party say about the Economy?

  • Balance the budget by 2025
  • Cap energy tariffs for vulnerable people
  • Increase living wage to 60% of median earnings by 2020

 

What does the Labour Party say about the Economy?

  • Renationalise rail companies and cap fares
  • Nationalise energy system and Royal Mail
  • Balance day to day government spending within 5 years

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about the Economy?

  • Boost economy with £100bn infrastructure investment
  • Balance day to day spending by 2020
  • Independent review on established cross-sector living wage

 

Who gets the points?

Labour 3

Lib Dem 2

Tory 1

Our verdict: Tories originally pledged to eliminate the deficit by 2015 and now say by 2025.  They also removed previous pledge not to increase NI or income tax.  Labour’s plan to renationalise the rail companies is a popular one with the public.


Brexit

What does the Conservative Party say about Brexit?

  • Leave the single market and customs union
  • Believe that ‘no deal’ is better than a bad deal
  • Maintain a common travel area

 

What does the Labour Party say about Brexit?

  • Don’t believe ‘no deal’ is a valid option in negotiations
  • Guarantee existing rights for EU and UK citizens living abroad
  • Prioritise negotiations around retaining single market and customs union

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about Brexit?

  • Have a second referendum once the terms of leaving are agreed
  • Focus on protecting rights of EU citizens in the UK and expats in the EU
  • Continue membership of the single market and customs union

 

Who gets the points?

Lib Dem 3

Labour 2

Tory 1

Our verdict: Liberal Democrats are the only party to offer a second referendum once a deal has been reached with Brussels and we know what leaving looks like.  Experts are suggesting the Brexit vote is now impacting on households with rising costs and falling wages and say being part of the EU increases security against terror attacks.


Tax & Spending

What does the Conservative Party say about Tax/spending?

  • Personal tax allowance to increase to £12,500 and higher rate to £50,000 by 2020
  • Cut corporation tax to 17% by 2020
  • Scrap pension triple lock (the scheme that determines how pensions increase in value) after 2020

 

What does the Labour Party say about Tax/spending?

  • No tax increases for people earning less than £80,000 per year
  • Guarantee state pension triple lock
  • Increase corporation tax but maintain level below most major developed economies

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about Tax/spending?

  • Increase income tax by 1p to spend on NHS and social care
  • Continue with the triple lock pension scheme
  • Reverse corporation tax cuts and reverse cuts to capital gains tax and marriage allowance

 

Who gets the points?

Tory 2

Labour 2

Lib Dem 2

Our verdict: This very much depends on who you are.  Older people have been upset by Tory pension plans while businesses would prefer the further cuts to corporation tax.  Those wanting more investment in health might like the Lib Dem plans on tax increases ring-fenced to spend on the NHS.


Immigration

What does the Conservative Party say about Immigration?

  • Sustainable levels of immigration in the tens of thousands
  • Overseas students counted in the immigration stats
  • Reduce asylum claims but allow refugees affected by conflict or oppression

 

What does the Labour Party say about Immigration?

  • Take in a fair share of refugees
  • Crackdown on fake colleges but not include overseas students in immigration stats
  • End freedom of movement as part of leaving EU

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about Immigration?

  • Want to continue freedom of movement as part of EU negotiations
  • Bring in 50,000 vulnerable people from Syria
  • Portray the benefits of immigration

 

Who gets the points?

Tory: 1

Labour: 1

Lib Dem: 1

Our verdict: Another tough call on a highly emotive subject.  We need net migration to the UK to fill jobs but the unemployment rates of migrants is around three times higher than across the UK generally.  A focus on migration for skilled workers should be the key for all parties.


Environment

What does the Conservative Party say about the Environment?

  • Supportive of fracking
  • Opening up the option to reverse ban on fox hunting
  • Take action against poor air quality

 

What does the Labour Party say about the Environment?

  • Introduce a ‘Clean Air Act’ to tackle poor air quality
  • Ban fracking
  • Move to a low carbon economy and meet climate change targets

 

What does the Liberal Democrat Party say about the Environment?

  • Introduce air quality plan to reduce deaths
  • Oppose fracking and expansion of Heathrow airport
  • Create five new green laws covering carbon emissions, transport, and waste

 

Who gets the points?

Lib Dem 3

Labour 2

Tory 0

Our verdict:
Clear win for the Liberal Democrats here and if it was possible to give minus points then the Tories would be in trouble with very little commitment to the environment in their manifesto. The fact Theresa May appears to want to bring back fox hunting says it all.

 

FINAL SCORES:

Liberal Democrat = 16

Labour = 15

Conservative = 7

 

How To Vote On Election Day

You need to weigh up what’s important to you and then look at what the situation is in your constituency.  If you lean towards Labour but the seat in your area is contested between Lib Dem and Conservatives then you’d be better represented voting for the Liberal Democrats as their policies are more closely aligned to Labour then the Tories.

The reverse is true for those Liberal Democrat voters.  The Conservatives are so far from what your party is standing for that you’d be better served voting for Labour to prevent the Tories from being elected.

There is a website on how to vote tactically to ensure the Tories don’t get in if you’re that way inclined – you just enter your postcode and the computer magically lets you know who to vote for. https://www.tactical2017.com/

 

On a Greener note:

The Green Party have no chance of being elected just yet – which is a shame.  They have some excellent policies on the economy, health, education and of course the environment.  If you’re in a constituency where the Green Party have a shout of winning then you’d be doing a good deed by voting for them.

 



Brexit flags

Brexit Stage Left?

Why didn’t Remain get a catchy little moniker that was attached to the Leave campaign?  The entire issue has been reduced to the portmanteau ‘Brexit’ – even before voting we were bombarded with media coverage promoting the idea of Brexit; a not-so-subtle attempt to normalise the idea of voting leave.

Why were most MPs previously opposed to the idea of leaving, then so determined that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ once the referendum results came in?  The fact that more people voted to remain than voted in the Tories in the general election seems to have gone under the radar.  The fact that many leave voters were doing so on the basis of lies and impossible promises and have now changed their minds also appears swept under the carpet.

Why is this happening?  Why aren’t MPs – mandated to look after our best interests – heading blindly towards a scenario that is going to be economic carnage for the majority of Brits?  It *has* to be about money.  There are some clues – one hedge fund manager made £220million betting on the outcome of the referendum by shorting on property companies and moving his funds into gold (which shot up in value as the pound plummeted).  Many others continue to profit from the ongoing choppiness of the markets.

The recent triumph (albeit possibly just temporary) for the Remainers in the High Court ruling parliament must vote on triggering article 50 is a decision the government are now appealing.  Ironic that May is determined to uphold the misplaced votes of many in opting to leave the EU but is attempting to overturn the court’s decision.

Does this mean people power can trump the legal system now?  If enough of us vote to lock up the cast of TOWIE with no particular legal reason then the government will make it happen?  Don’t forget this is a country that twice voted a dog as Britain’s ‘most talented’.  We aren’t responsible enough and too easily manipulated by the media to make decisions on long term foreign policy.

Instead, our MPs, those that we chose to represent us, are charged with making important decisions about our future where we don’t have all the information or the requisite intelligence (supposedly) to make these choices ourselves.

We can see the damage caused already by the referendum and it will only get worse.  Just this week a leading ratings agency is preparing to further downgrade the UK’s rating as it warns of a bleak outlook for the economy.

The High Court ruling that requires MPs to now vote on triggering article 50 (as long as it’s not overturned at appeal) gives all sane Brits the opportunity to lobby your local MP to vote against pulling the trigger.

Make sure you contact your local MP and ask them to vote against article 50 and campaign to remain in the EU, or at least for a second referendum once we know the terms on which we would leave.  We need MPs to realise that the public vote was tainted and what was promised is not what is deliverable.  It’s time the politicians stood up and did something useful.



closer-closet

A Closer Look in Your Closet

If I asked you to describe your closet, what adjectives would you use? Messy? Colourful? Large? What about your fashion habits? Do you save up for expensive purchases like Italian leather bags and hand-stitched dresses, or do you visit fashion chains like Primark and H&M on a regular basis, always on the hunt for a bargain?

If you’re like most Western consumers, your wardrobe is extensive but does not contain many high-quality, expensive products. You have lots of pieces that you wear two or three times before getting rid of them either because they go out of style within just a few weeks or fall apart after you wash them twice. Sound familiar? If so, you’re part of the fast fashion culture that dominates the global apparel industry.

Fast fashion is exactly what it sounds like: a rapid model of garment production and distribution that results in new trends and products being introduced in retail stores as often as fortnightly. This is a significant departure from fifty years ago, when fashion changes coincided with the four seasons, and people saved their money to buy quality products that would last them for years. Most fashion is no longer made to last, and consumers are prepared to make purchases more regularly.

Just as consumption habits have changed significantly, the nature of production has shifted. Most products are no longer made and sold in the same location. Now, fashion brands participate in global production systems in which suppliers in developing countries produce goods that are sold in retail stores in developed countries. Garment workers are paid meagre wages and often can’t afford to buy the clothes they make. They experience other challenges too, such as unsafe working conditions, long hours, wage and gender discrimination, and lack of benefits or employment rights.

Fast fashion practices put extra demands on workers, as tight timelines and cost pressures result in production practices that are detrimental to workers. Thousands of garment workers have lost their lives in factory fires and collapses over the past decade, tragedies which often go unreported by the media. In the fast fashion industry where “you get what you pay for,” it’s the workers who end up paying the ultimate price.

Here’s where you come in. Start to educate yourself on where the clothes in your closet are coming from and who is making them. Sources like Free2Work www.free2work.org/trends/apparel, The Good Shopping Guide www.thegoodshoppingguide.com/ethical-clothing-directory, and Ethical Consumer www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/clothing/clothesshops.aspx provide information on how to determine which fashion companies are “ethical.” Consider making a switch if necessary. Tell your favourite brands that you care about the conditions under which the clothes you wear are made, and that you’re willing to pay a couple extra bucks if they can guarantee workers in their supply chains are being paid fair wages. And maybe reconsider your shopping habits. Sometimes less is more. You, as a consumer, have a voice, and perhaps the meaningful way it can be expressed is through your wallet.

 

This throwback thursday article written by Anna Rohwer was originally published in Artmuso in August 2014



World Toilet Day Logo

World Toilet Day 2015

­Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, hommes et femmes, caballeros y senoras, damen und herren.

If you’re looking for toilets then we’re here to point you in the right direction.

While some toilet door signs may be confusing – who knows which is which in Ireland (Fir and Mná) or what the WC toilet sign means (it stands for Water Closet) – a shocking 2.4 billion people on the planet do not have access to a proper toilet.

That’s roughly one in every three people.

November 19 marks the third World Toilet Day, established by the UN to raise awareness of the scale of the global problem in sanitation.

Without proper toilets, children can be exposed to human waste causing a number of diseases that prevent them being able to absorb nutrients in their food. This can have deadly consequences for children.

1000 children died each day in 2013 from preventable diseases caused by poor sanitation.

In communities where people go to the toilet in the open, diseases like diarrhoea are easily spread and in turn cause undernutrition.

Making sure people have equitable access to basic toilets, and changing behaviour to ensure these toilets are used, is vital to improving the nutritional health and development of children, and giving every child a fair chance at life.

The new international development targets launched earlier this year (the Sustainable Development Goals), call for universal access to toilets and proper sanitation for all by 2030; a highly ambitious target but one that could have significant benefits.

For example, every $1 spent on water and sanitation returns a saving of $4.3 in reduced health care costs – a good investment for aid donors and recipients alike.

Get Involved in World Toilet Day

UN-Water and UNICEF are leading the campaigns around World Toilet Day 2015 and have a number of ways you can get involved.

If you’re in New York then head over to the UN Building to see the inflatable toilet, and to have your picture taken in a photo booth in the UN lobby as part of the ‘be a thinker’ social media campaign, or make your way to Washington Square Park to experience the See Through Loo – a transparent toilet!

You can take part in #BeAThinker campaign by considering how people feel when they don’t have access to a toilet and have to go in the open, and the implications of this for children and women especially.

Simply pose as a ‘thinker’, take a selfie, and post on social with your thought and the hashtag #BeAThinker

Be A Thinker

For more information on World Toilet Day visit http://www.worldtoiletday.info/

 



The Shit Show

The Shit Show

An exhibition not to be missed – if you give a shit about World Toilet Day that is.

November 19th is World Toilet Day – when charities like Wateraid and organisations such as UNICEF raise awareness of the 2.3 billion people (that’s one in every three people on the planet) who don’t have access to a proper toilet.

It seems remarkable that a third of the world’s population don’t have sanitation facilities given the standard of living we’re used to in the ‘West’.

Wateraid are hoping to pique interest with The Shit Show, a free, poop-themed interactive gallery featuring art from some of America’s most acclaimed artists and something of a fun approach to a serious issue.

Currently confirmed artists include: Yoni Alter, Jon Burgerman, Nick Chaffe, Jhowee Chiang, Madeleine diGangi, Alan Foreman, Jacob Fradkin, Andy Gilmore, Dave Krugman, Anna Laytham, Mick Marston, Roger Mason, Caroline Melisa, Al Murphy, Alvin Ong & Cheri Ong, Diana Park, Robert Petrie, Matthew Reid, Ashkahn Shahparnia, Chairman Ting, Jessica May Underwood, Libby Vanderploeg and Susanne Walström.

The event is free to the public and will be held between 20-22nd November from 11am to 6pm at 103 Norfolk Street at Delancy Street – so if you’re in New York then get yourself down there to experience the shit!

You’ll have the chance to take a deep dive into the issue by interacting with various installations and viewing Wateraid’s award winning film Across the Tracks. Artwork from The Shit Show will be available for sale to benefit WaterAid’s water and sanitation programs in 37 countries across the globe.

Find out more about Wateraid in your country by visiting http://www.wateraid.org



Water in Malawi - the SDG targets 100% water access by 2030

UNICEF on MDG SDG and WASH

Global Water Crisis

Water is a massive issue, with commentators suggesting it could cause more conflicts than even oil has.  Whereas there are alternatives for fuel, there is no alternative to water, and for that reason alone we should all be very concerned with global and local water issues.

UNICEF and Development Goals

Water and Environment Senior Advisor at UNICEF, Cecilia Scharp, has been a key player in ensuring a stronger focus on water and sanitation issues for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – policy that will shape global development for at least the next 15 years.

These much anticipated goals – with the focus on sustainability – supersede the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which covered the period between 2000 and 2015 and had a water target of reducing by half the number of people without safe water access.  That target, while achieved several years before the 2015 deadline, still leaves over 650 million people globally with no safe water access.

We asked Cecilia what was different this time around.

“The new Goal 6 is focusing on the whole water cycle, and for the two water and sanitation targets we’re talking about universal access; that is everyone is going to be covered everywhere.

“It also states that the targets should be affordable, sustainable, safe. There were lots of adjectives added that gives us the opportunity to work more broadly with the sector overall, and that for us is key.

“Previously in the MDG agenda there was a call to target only the population without access to water and sanitation, and if you look at the real purpose of having global goals it would be to drive an agenda, to drive policy, and for water and sanitation I believe those targets have made a real difference.  We were able to carry out a global monitoring, we could get more money to the sector, and more focus in countries for delivery of drinking water. The problem was though we did not necessarily reach to the most marginalised and vulnerable people.

Water in Niger- SDG ©UNICEF/2016/Niger/Ashley Gilbertson

©UNICEF/2016/Niger/Ashley Gilbertson

Sustainable Water Access

“But access is just access – unless you have the management systems, government systems, institutions, internal capacity, etc – this access is not sustainable.  So really the target is to drive innovation to monitor services in real time – to ensure they are better managed, more sustainable – and providers are held accountable by the people who use their services.”

Sounds simple enough right – the target of reaching 100% of the world’s population with sustainable water access? As Cecilia explained, the ‘devil is in the detail’. The targets are being translated into indicators for ongoing measurement to determine success levels around ‘safely managed water and sanitation’ addressing issues such as the length of time taken to collect water.

“There wasn’t a uniform definition previously on what access actually meant and it was up to the governments to decide what it meant. Now there is a growing consensus on a definition that talks about a 30 minute round trip including queuing and doing [filling containers] so it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes for family to collect the water they need for the day.

“There a lot of things embedded in the indicators that we are fighting for the moment to really push the broader agenda and I think that will make a difference for us.  The other issue now is there are targets on hygiene, water quality and waste water management, so that’s another area that wasn’t at all addressed [in the MDGs].

“We know most countries release waste water directly into the environment without treatment. So there will be a push for understanding water quality broadly at the water point, at home when you drink it and now also- at the resource level, so for us that’s hugely important.”

From MDG to SDG

The water targets do go much deeper into society than on the previous set of goals, which the UN admits were constructed by ‘a group of experts behind closed doors’, whereas the sustainable development goals involved the 193 member states and ‘unprecedented participation of civil society and other stakeholders’.

Goal 6 of the 17 SDGs is to: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. And it comes with a number of proposed targets that also consider ecosystems, and water resources management, wastewater and pollution, and water use efficiency, alongside the water and sanitation issues.

While she may have preferred a more explicit link to health and education, Cecilia is pretty happy with the targets and says she wouldn’t have incorporated any additional focus on water at the expense of the 17 goals. Given the number of member states agreeing to the goals and the specific wording of the targets, it’s seen overall as a success.

But now the real test begins: “The challenge now is for the governments to take these goals, to make sustainable development strategies and to figure out how to implement them, and what this means in terms of financing and capacity developments, and institutional developments, technology, innovation etc.

“Now we have the goals we are struggling with the indicators, and that will be a very difficult process in itself because member states understand that this is where it starts to get real– and they need to show the global community that they can deliver.  That is why there will be a lot of political discussions in the coming months.

“I think previously we thought that developing the indicators was a technical task done by technical people, but now has become much more political and [member states] wants to have much more say and only ask UN agencies or other expert groups for support when needed.  This could be a bit unfortunate because we now have member states who are driving in different directions and they will go back to their constituencies saying ‘OK what is it we can do?’”

Cecilia explains that member states have their own agenda based on whatever situations exist in their specific country and this can affect the development of indicators and monitoring.  “From the UNICEF perspective we have been the ones together with WHO that have been monitoring water and sanitation so we have the set up on how to monitor and collect data how to analyse and present data, so we felt we were in good shape to propose indicators. Now member states work on that themselves but we hope they build on what is suggested building on experience.”

SDG - ©UNICEF/2016/Malawi/Ashley Gilbertson

©UNICEF/2016/Malawi/Ashley Gilbertson

Universal Access to Water

So given all the work that has gone into researching, consulting, and agreeing the next 15 years of global development targets, is there any confidence on achieving the goal of universal access to water, as the MDGs had been criticised by some for failing to provide water access for the very poorest, rural communities?

“Certainly we are really happy we had achieved the Millennium Development Goal on water, but obviously the inequalities with this achievement are huge.  The main gains were in countries like India and China but not in West Africa for example. If the progress rate from 1990 to 2013 in West Africa was replicated up until 2030 – we would miss the new target of universal access by a long shot.  At the current rate of progress, we would only be able to reach 75% access to safe water in West Africa – which isn’t good enough.  Those remaining 25% represent some of the world’s poorest people – and they must a priority in the next 15 years.

“Many countries have done very well and now Ethiopia has achieved its millennium development goal for water which is great, fantastic, but there are many many countries particularly in south of the Sahara that would have a huge struggle if we continue at the same pace.”

While some may be wondering if the SDG targets have overstretched themselves in their optimism, Cecilia is positive but realistic: “The 2030 goals are very ambitious is good to have ambitious goals – that’s where everybody should strive for.

“Countries facing the challenges of climate change or experiencing other humanitarian situations and political turmoil will continue to struggle, so it’s going to be challenging to meet the 2030 targets. If we ‘only’ have 663 million people remaining it’s still a huge number living without access to safe water. But with the correct political will and investment, I believe we can get there”

In order to reach the goal for 100% access Cecilia believes something ‘really radical’ will need to happen. Given the seeming increased conflict in the Middle East with a crisis in Syria where water is a potential underlying cause of the conflict and has been used as an instrument in the war, this poses even more challenges for meeting the SDG on water and it will be interesting to see how the UN, and UNICEF in particular, deal with this.

For now, and for the aftermath of the 70th UN General Assembly held in September, it’s a moment to celebrate for Cecilia and her sector on the culmination of several years of negotiation and consultation.  The goals are ambitious but provide the broad agenda that manages to encapsulate many more facets of water and sanitation provision than ever before.

For more information visit https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/ or http://www.unicef.org/ or follow Unicef on twitter @unicefwater or facebook https://www.facebook.com/unicef

 



How secret trade negotiations are going to destroy the NHS among other things

 

Forget a referendum on Europe, there’s no way we’ll be allowed to leave the Union – but it will come at a perfect time for trans-national companies (TNCs) and US and EU governments who will likely be finalising the terms of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) under the radar and without any opportunity for our democratic input while we’re all distracted by the media attention on whether we should be in or out of Europe.

The basic premise for TTIP (an ironic acronym as the ‘tip’ is the best place for this trade agreement) is to allow the US and the EU to trade more freely without any of the current restrictions largely in place to protect us – think food standards, financial regulation (don’t laugh), and even democracy itself (according to journalist and campaigner George Monbiot).

Under the TTIP, the NHS will be privatised, there will be huge increases in GM food products from the US, and a relaxing of the stricter EU regulations on food standards such as the use of additives and pesticides.

Just as worryingly, there is scope under the agreement for private companies to sue the government if they believe they’ve been unfairly treated – for example if the UK government tries to return to the public the parts of the NHS that are already run by private companies.  This would mean TNCs having far more opportunity to affect government policies.

TTIP Trojan Horse

CC Image courtesy of greensefa on Flickr

David Cameron – you know, that one that for some unknown reason was elected into power earlier this year – has said the NHS is not under threat from TTIP yet he’s not removed it from the trade deal.  Economists have rejected claims from supporters of TTIP that it will benefit both US and EU working families.

Only last month the EU failed to ban 31 pesticides linked to cancer and male infertility following pressure from the US relating to the TTIP agreement.

There is pretty much nothing good about TTIP unless you are incredibly wealthy and you’re looking to get even richer while making more people suffer.

To find out more about the agreement and how you can get involved to support the opposition to this assault on our society then check out the following websites:

War on Want have a booklet you can download here

Online campaigning group 38 Degrees have a petition you can sign here

The Guardian newspaper have a dedicated section on TTIP here



Fashion Friendly Ethics

Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham have similarities that are clear to the novice of all consumers. They are British designers, premium designers, influential and inspirational designers (the latter goes without saying).

There is something that is strikingly different about them though. One has an ethos that is so rare and rather admirable in an industry where leathers, skins and fur sell like hot cakes and resisting to take a slice of that due to being a vegetarian since being a child, is not only rare it is also dignified.

This designer is none other than Stella McCartney (of course). Not only has she stayed true to herself, she has introduced us to a world where eco doesn’t mean a limited choice of oatmeal-coloured t-shirts, denim you couldn’t be seen in or faux leather accessories you inconspicuously hide. No, quite the contrary, her runway shows each season, shown in Paris (everyone has a carbon footprint and through her own admittance they are not perfect) are coveted by editors, celebrities are pictured on and off the red carpet with her pieces and the beauty of it all is that the consumer and observer is not bombarded with the image of some ‘hippy’ with flower garlands on her hair. Rather, the Stella McCartney woman is strong and can rock a sexy panelled dress with no hint to suggest she is a “tree-hugger”.

In an industry where brands and personalities can “sell out”, it is clear that this is a direction Stella McCartney will not humour and this I believe, will sustain the brand and improve the steps taken to become better for mother nature and all inhabitants.

Now excuse me whilst I admire eco-friendly tailoring at its finest and devour Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages on a Wednesday evening- note it’s not a Monday.



The Search for Happiness

‘Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think’- Buddha

Mental health is something I think some of us take for granted. Some of us don’t look after our bodies as well as we should, therefore putting our mental health at risk. Sometimes we can’t figure out why we are feeling so glum and run down, but usually it boils down to how well you look after yourself and how much time you take out for yourself just to relax. Although some of us are not necessarily suffering from depression, it is important to lead a healthy and happy lifestyle in order to prevent this. Unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, stressful jobs, lack of decent weather and many other things you wouldn’t even consider- contribute to having an effect on our moods, sometimes resulting in long term depression or periods of feeling down in the dumps.

It’s too easy to let day to day life cause anxieties and stress which results in unnecessary long term problems for us all. Although it may seem difficult, it is possible to get in to a mindset where you can control these unwanted thoughts.  Although, when you are not in the best frame of mind, it may seem like these thoughts are like quick sand and you are sinking further and further beneath. It’s important to realise that these thoughts can be controlled and believe that you have the ability to control them yourself.

I, myself have struggled with anxiety for the past few years- I regularly worried about what people thought of me, I often thought I wasn’t good enough for certain jobs or people, I obsessed over what I didn’t have instead of what I did have. The list was endless and I was a very unconfident person for a very long time. There came a point where I realised I couldn’t continue to live my life with this way of thinking anymore and knew it was about time I took control of my thought process, as this was the element that controlled my happiness.

I first took control by cutting out all negative attributes in my life. Anything at all that made me unhappy, I let go of. And although the thought of letting go of something you are used to may seem hard – it is difficult in the short term – it benefits you in the long term. Cutting out negativity can be as little as not eating as much junk food, not having as many cigarettes, or even skipping a night out on the booze to get your liver and your head a rest. Basically, it’s just cutting out or cutting down on things that you know are bad for you. The changes you can make can even be as big as cutting ties with an annoying friend, changing your job or taking up a new hobby.

Once cutting out the negativity, you automatically begin to feel better. You suddenly stop actively seeking happiness and realise that it is right there in front of you.

Another great way to improve your mental health or to keep away anxieties is to do yoga and/or meditation. Yoga involves breathing techniques and a wide range of bodily postures- one main reason why yoga is practiced is for relaxation and for the improvement of health. Yoga influences relaxation which helps lower the stress hormone ‘cortisol’. Yoga is a brilliant exercise that helps mind and body, as the breathing techniques used in yoga help slow down the heart rate and pulse, resulting in de-tensing muscles. Yoga can also help to improve sleep, help blood pressure, improve digestion, reduce fatigue, improve asthma, reduce insomnia, improve physical health/posture and beat depression. Yoga helps us focus on the current moment, helping people have a more positive outlook on life. Yoga isn’t time consuming- you can feel the difference just after a twenty minute workout.

The best way to start practising yoga is to become familiar with the poses from yoga books or videos (many clips can be found on YouTube). If practiced on a regular basis, you will remember the poses off the top of your head resulting in easier practise as you’re not trying to look at a book or a screen at the same time. I find now that I can practise yoga without having to watch or read anything which helps the practice to be a lot more peaceful and I can go at my own pace and work to my own abilities. The best way to practice yoga is to set the right environment by having dimly lit lights, incense/candles and calming music. Yoga mats, straps and foam pads will help certain poses also and help ease your body into adjusting to these poses.

Meditation is also a brilliant way to aid relaxation and help gain a better way of thinking- meditation trains the mind to clear and creates a better sense of well being. The result from gaining relaxation from meditating helps clear anxieties and stress. It is important to keep up a regular routine of meditation in order to keep a clear and healthy mind.

Meditating just five minutes every other day would help clear the mind and improve mental health, it can be done even just sitting at your desk in work or on the bus but of course you want to make sure you don’t get disturbed.

People are too quick to go to the doctors when they can feel life dragging them down, and personally I think doctors are too quick to prescribe anti-depressants. Of course in serious situations then this would the best thing to do. But I think it’s important, especially in younger people to see if you can overcome the shadows just by taking control of your own thoughts and your own happiness.

I’ve witnessed close friends and family overcome tough times just by putting their life in order and finding peace without having to go on any type of medication. The main thing is about having the belief that you can do it all by yourself- it is surprising just how powerful the mind can be. If you have the belief, patience, and the determination- you can achieve almost anything.

 

EDITORS NOTE:

Everybody is different and while it is possible for some people to regain control with the good practices detailed in this article, others are more seriously suffering with mental health issues and need medical support. If you feel that you need help for depression, feeling low or unwell then you can get help and advice at Mind http://www.mind.org.uk/