Category: Social Conscience

Bite the Ballot

After Russell Brand’s now infamous call for people to abstain from voting, the issue of whether the electorate should and will vote has become an increasingly prominent issue, especially in light of the recent Scottish Independence Referendum allowing 16 and 17 year-olds the vote, a move that may well be replicated across the UK at future elections.

On Thursday, May 7th 2015 the General Election will take place, but will we witness an ascent in the electoral turnout? Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, voter turnout was maintained between 70% and 85% for every General Election until Tony Blair’s second victory saw a sharp decrease to 59.36%, a figure that did rise again to 65.11% in 2010, probably as a result of uncertainty over the eventual outcome. However this figure still means nearly 35% are not exercising their freedom to vote. A contributing factor to the missing proportion of voters is disillusionment amongst today’s youth over who is representing them. Across several European countries we see a greater number of older citizens voting as opposed to younger people.

One organization that is resolving to engage and inspire younger people to connect with the democratic process is Bite the Ballot, an organization established in London but with an office in Birmingham. I spoke to Birmingham’s passionate Community Engagement Officer, Sawsan Bastawy, about the organization’s vision and general assessment on the relationship between young people and politics.

JB: What is the primary intent of BTB?

Sawsan: Bite the Ballot works to create spaces and opportunities for people aged 16-24 to empower themselves to participate in democracy. We work on a model of inspiration. Our challenge is to inspire people to inform themselves; inspire them to engage with the issues that they care about; and ultimately, empower them to take an active role in democracy. We don’t mention obligation or legality. We want people to participate in democracy with enthusiasm, not because they feel they have to. Fortunately for us, the inspiration model is vastly more successful, which is why it costs us 25p to register someone to vote, while it costs the government £25.

JB: Are people disengaged with politics, or is it just party politics they feel a lack of connection with?

Sawsan: People aren’t disengaged with politics. Politics is everywhere, and it affects everything. What people do not necessarily do is make the connection between democratic participation and their life. When people aged 16-24 give me reasons why they don’t see themselves voting in the future, it has more to do with a) consensus politics: “they all sound the same and say the same thing, except for that one party”; b) useless politics “what difference does it make who wins? Nothing will change- nothing ever does”; c) unrepresentative politics: “I know what I want, but I don’t like any of the parties”; d) inaccessible politics: “I don’t know anything about the parties.”

The responsibility, in all instances, is on the politicians and their parties to meet these people half way. At the moment, people aged 25 and under are standing at that meeting point waving their hands furiously, trying to get the attention of the policy-makers. If they aren’t willing to meet under-25’s, shake hands, and talk about their place in democracy, the younger generations will turn their back too. Of course they won’t make the connection between what’s going on in their day-to-day lives and the government. Of course they won’t feel that their democratic participation is valuable. This is where Bite the Ballot steps in.

JB: Recent election turnouts have been disappointing; do you feel that uncertainty regarding the 2015 result will spark a rise in the turnout?

Sawsan: Absolutely. The coming General Election will mark a change in history – we have two parties, the Green Party and UKIP, whose popularity is snowballing; a strong opposition party; and a coalition government. In addition, the momentum built by the Scottish Independence Referendum towards a revamp of a political system has introduced the idea that real and meaningful change is possible. This is a liberating and exciting time to participate in democracy and to use your vote.

JB: What effect does what is happening globally impact younger generations here in the UK?

Sawsan: Global events impact UK youth immensely. Whether it’s concern over ISIS; TTIP; or global economic security and whether it affects our ability to enter the workforce; we are very much aware of the impact that events on the other side of the world have on our lives. More than this, however, we are seeing movements, youth-led movements, all over the world. From the Arab Spring to the student movement in Mexico, to the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong- the status quo is changing. People are reclaiming power and our actions- and our votes matter.


At the core of their drive to attract more young people into participating with the democratic process, Bite the Ballot, are taking part in National Voter Registration Day on Thursday, February 5th 2015. To find out more about this and the work Bite the Ballot do there are a variety of contact links down below:

Twitter: @bitetheballot or @bitebrum

Phone: 0203 609 3510

And for Sawsan, you can email her at

Bring them home for Christmas

Christmas is a time of year we associate with family. Adverts depict families cosily gathered around log fires, eating turkey and exchanging presents. For some, however, Christmas is a time of heartbreak.

In the U.K an estimated 250,000 men, women, and children go missing each year. Unless you’ve experienced this tragedy, it’s difficult to imagine the anguish suffered when someone in your family disappears without trace or explanation. The worry and uncertainty must be overwhelming.

This year the UK charity Missing People has launched a Christmas appeal called ‘Home for Christmas’. The campaign aims to fundraise and raise awareness with the ultimate goal being to find missing people and reunite them with their families for the festive period.

The Missing People’s Charity works in various capacities. They facilitate direct searches for the missing by organising search parties and liasing with authorities such as social services and the police. The charity also organises support for the families of missing people and hosts ‘Welcome Back’ interviews that enable those who have been missing to talk through their experiences, their feelings and any issues that may have led them to leave. The charity recruits volunteers and trains them for this purpose and operates on a professional basis.

Succeeding in finding missing people depends largely on raising awareness. Missing People is indebted to volunteers devoted to organising television and radio announcements and the distribution of flyers. Many contribute to this cause by hosting fundraising events and there have been many creative ideas such as greetings card stalls, carolling and Santa runs.

The website is the place to go for information and it is kept updated with photographs and details of missing persons so you can keep a look out. Just by being vigilant you could make an astounding difference and enable a family to be reunited this Christmas.

Climate March: What’s the fracking point?

An estimated 400,000 people marched in Manhattan, NYC, on September 21st 2014 marking the start of the 31st United Nations General Assembly – over a hundred of the world’s leaders coming together to discuss development issues, including climate change.

Climate March protesters New York 2014

Climate March protesters New York 2014

Seeing the streets around Times Square completely devoid of cars and people as we waited for the march to pass by was an eerie sight. Watching hundreds of thousands of people giving up their Sunday brunch to protest against pollution, greedy corporations, and to support maple syrup among other things, made you wonder what would ever change as a result.

The Climate March organisers say they need ‘everyone in order to change everything’. I think they’re right in that they need to change everything in order to make any significant improvements across the world.

The problem is the system. Fortune reports that “From 2009 to 2012, the top 1% incomes grew by 31.4% while the bottom 99% incomes grew a mere 0.4%” and the growing inequality will not disappear until we change the system that enables those at the top to exploit everyone else.

Governments in developed countries don’t make policy decisions, those decisions are made for them by faceless corporations lobbying politicians using vast sums of money as effective persuasion. And many of these companies end up benefitting to the tune of billions with corporate tax relief and subsidies – earlier this month Aditya Chakrabortty at the Guardian estimated a total of £85bn in corporate welfare.

In 2012 Amazon was paid more by the Government in subsidies than it paid in tax – meaning you and I actually paid Amazon to run their business in the UK. And the most successful rail franchise happens to be the only publicly owned one, with East Coast paying more to the treasury in one year than Virgin paid in 15.

There’s a whole other article about this very issue but the point remains that while the government continues reducing the size and power of the state through continued privatisation (the NHS is next) it makes it less relevant to protest to politicians and more appropriate to protest to the corporations that actually make the rules.

Jon McClure, lead singer from Reverend and the Makers said in an interview with Artmuso that people are making their own protests through the choices they make and what they decide to consume. If we believe this to be true there could be a very powerful movement based on encouraging people to make particular choices for maximum effect.

For example, asking everyone to stop using petrol is not practical, but if we all stopped using one particular supplier, such as BP, we would force that company to consider its approach. Same goes with avoiding say Primark, but buying from charity shops or saving up for quality products from ethical producers as Anna Rohwer discusses in Artmuso.

What has this got to do with climate change and the September marches? Unless we change everything, and that means the fundamental basis of our current capitalist system that rewards corporations at the expense of the everyman; we won’t change anything.

Regardless of how many marches take place and how many hundreds of thousands of people participate, we will never see the reduction of inequality, the improvement of our climate, and significant change, until we oust the greed and corruption that poisons every corner of the globe.

The multinational corporations that cause wide-scale pollution will continue unabated, and unconcerned, and the politicians beholden to those faceless entities will only ever make small policy changes to keep us quiet and the money-makers happy.

You want to change the climate? Then you’ll need to change everything.

Get involved:

38 Degrees

People’s Climate


Ofwat: the regulatory farce

We live in a liberal market economy, a free, capitalist world where companies are able to compete with each other resulting in market forces that drive down cost to consumers by creating efficiencies in the system and processes of providing that service or product.

Sounds great huh? Except, have you ever tried to switch water suppliers in the UK? It’s not possible (unless you’re a very large business of course). In our free market economy there exists multiple regional monopolies on water provision. This means you don’t get a choice, you can’t pick the cheapest, or the one with the best service. You get what you’re given and if you don’t like it then you’ll need to move several counties away.

Not only that but our beloved water regulator (the one that the taxpayer funds) Ofwat, doesn’t appear to have much of an appetite for regulation. Earlier this year the Observer newspaper acquired data from the Environment Agency under the Freedom of Information Act that showed more than 1,000 pollution incidents committed by the 10 biggest water companies over nine years resulted in only £3.5m in fines with two thirds of the incidents simply resulting in a caution.

This means an average fine of just £10,800 for multiple and persistent disregard of the regulations, and the environment, for example, United Utilities allowed sewage to pour into Cumbria’s river Keekle on 22 occasions in 2012. All the while the water companies are making huge profits and paying billions in dividends to shareholders but next to nothing in tax.

Water companies don’t have to repair leakages if they can demonstrate it would cost them more to repair than the cost of the environmental damage caused by the leak (a pretty large grey area in my opinion). Ofwat provides a ‘leakage allowance’ to water companies that barely changed across the five years of 2009-14 in the last price review. The staggering total of 3.24 billion litres PER DAY is allowed to leak out of our pipes without the water companies having to lift a finger.

Things are no better in America as a report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in 2013 showed 2.1 trillion gallons of water wasted annually as a result of leaking, crumbling infrastructure – that’s around 9.5 trillion in litres, enough to put Manhattan under 298 feet of water.

Ofwat is currently working out how much to let the water companies in the UK increase their prices by over the next five years from 2015 as part of its regular price review – last year prices increased by 3.5% so well above the rate of inflation and average salary increases.

Rather disturbingly, despite the price review occurring every five years, the Ofwat senior management team failed to budget for its cost and as a result the Treasury handed them a budget of £29.375million of taxpayers money, of which at least £6.45million will be paid to private financial firm PricewaterhouseCoopers as it was deemed Ofwat did not have the expertise and resources to conduct the price review internally.

Furthermore, the Chairman of the Board at Ofwat claimed £16,651 of taxpayer’s money towards the costs of a flat in London, as detailed in the 2013-14 annual report, without authorisation from HM Treasury. He did subsequently repay the money received for the flat but it leaves a pretty nasty taste in the mouth – much like the water out the taps.

The wonderful irony with Ofwat is that their webpage on ‘transparency and data’ leads you to a completely blank page. How much more transparent could you get?


NB: Duncan from has kindly provided some updated information for this blog.  Namely that Ofwat is actually funded by a direct levy on water companies (who have been lobbying to reduce this levy) although the whole funding issue is rather opaque.

Ofwat as the economic regulator does not get involved in fines related to environmental matters – although this line can be blurred.

Finally, Ofwat’s current price settlement means a real terms cut in water prices (only the second time this has happened since privatisation) although the last time it happened water companies cut costs by scaling back R&D and innovation and operational costs such as maintenance.

Thanks to Duncan – you can read his blogs at

Social Conscience

At Artmuso we think it’s important for people to know more about the bigger issues that are happening all around us every day but that for many reasons, often go under-reported.  As Freeq magazine we brought you articles on ethical fashion, aid working in Sudan, democracy in the Maldives, climate change and many more as well as partnering with local and international charities to raise awareness of their work.

If you know of an issue that’s important to you and that you want more people to understand then get in touch and we’ll look into it.