Quaker Socialist Society Salter Lecture: Solutions for a divided society

Good afternoon Friends and welcome to
this… [sound is lost] and it’s such a delight to see so many
people here today. It’s rather unusual time for for such a meeting, so thank you
indeed very much indeed for coming to join us today and a particular welcome
to Haifa Rashed who is going to be our chair, clerk for the day and Catherine
West who is our speaker. Haifa is from the North London Area
Meeting and among many roles I’m sure she’s also clerk to the Engaging Young
Adult Quakers Steering Group, so we’re very pleased and grateful to you Haifa
for for coming along today. My name is Mick Langford I’m clerk to
the QSS and it falls to me to make some housekeeping sort of announcement. The
the talk will and the questions and answers will go on until about half past
one, but I am asked to ensure that the whole room is emptied by two o’clock so
that the staff can arrange the room for another event that’s taking place today. So for health and safety reasons we have
to be be out of here by two o’clock. I’m sure you’ve all have turned your
telephones off or put them into flight mode, I’m afraid I can’t do an impression
of a telephone ringing but if you could just make sure that that is the case. And as far as fire well the possibility of
fire I’m sure there isn’t one, but we have to say that there are no planned fire drills or alarms today, so if the alarm does go off it’s for real and
we are asked to vacate the building by the well-signed exits here.
Apparently that one leads straight out onto the street but we are asked to
gather in the garden at the front of the building should should that be necessary. That’s about all I have to say except to
say that at the end of the meeting I’ve got some notices, so don’t go away I’ve
got some notices. So with that I leave it to Haifa to commence the meeting and to
introduce introduce Catherine to you. Thank you very much. So I’m very happy to
introduce this year’s Salter Lecturer Catherine West not least because I am
one of her constituents. Catherine is the Labour Member of Parliament for Hornsey and
Wood Green in North London. Prior to being elected to Parliament in 2015
Catherine was leader of Islington Council where she set up the country’s
first Fairness Commission, chaired by Professor Richard Wilkinson co-author of
The Spirit Level. Catherine West became a Quaker in the 1990s and is a member of
Northwest London Area Meeting. She gave the Swathmore Lecture in 2017 on the
topic of ‘Faith in Politics? A testimony to equality’. Quaker testimonies inform
Catherine’s politics. Amongst many causes she’s been a prominent spokesperson in
campaigns for nuclear disarmament, for the better treatment of asylum seekers
and for the UK remaining in the EU. The theme of Catherine’s lecture today will
be ‘Solutions for a divided society’. After nine years of severe austerity, social
and economic inequality is rising and British society is increasingly divided.
Catherine will suggest some basic solutions for our communities which
could make a real difference and bring people back together. Catherine will
speak for about 30 minutes followed by some plenty of time for reflections and
questions and discussion. As is customary at Yearly Meeting we
will start and finish in silence, upholding Catherine and Catherine will
speak when she is ready. Good afternoon, Friends. It’s lovely to be
here and thank you for that lovely introduction Haifa and I hope Haifa, as
somebody who works for Unison trade union across the road, will help when it
comes to some of the question and answers because I’m sure she’ll have
lots of facts and figures at her fingertips and it is a real honor to
give this year’s Salter Lecture and the books about Ada Salter are right here. If
you haven’t got a copy please purchase one
it’s a lovely book, fantastic read and everything you need to know about
solutions for a divided society. And last year of course our friend Molly Scott-Cato MEP spoke about the peace argument for remaining in the European Union and
it’s a real honor to follow her in giving the Salter Lecture today. So the
focus of my speech is not on Brexit, but it would be impossible to talk about
solutions for a divided society without speaking its name, particularly in the
light of yesterday’s polling day. The 2016 referendum split the population in
two and the ensuing negotiations have laid bare the inadequacies of the
parliamentary process and it would be easy for me as someone who voted and
campaigned for remaining in the European Union to wish that the whole thing had
never happened, but to do so would really be to deny Brexit’s political salience
and to ignore the context of austerity as a driver which gave the debate
between the leave camp and the remain camp its edge in 2016. And many who voted
to leave did as a response to unfettered inequality in my view and as a rejection
of those who appeared to defend the status quo and neoliberalism as we know
it. The high number of leave voters in the
regions outside London, particularly in the north of England really to me
couldn’t be a clearer statement of that fact and in the decades since the
financial crisis advanced economies have been disappointing on many fronts. The
government’s choice to bail out banks and to keep interest rates artificially
low for a decade exposed the myth of the self-sustaining free-market. The
continual concentration of wealth and power in the City of London has
alienated a huge chunk of the country and the infighting and squabbling in the
House of Commons has only served to exacerbate disillusionment, but I fear
however that if we do leave the European Union the same people who are
disenchanted with politics may stand to leave to lose the most economically and
culturally. Two years ago as Haifa mentioned I delivered this Swarthmore Lecture which
I wrote with my friend councillor Andy Hull and our thesis was that inequality
is bad for everyone, not only undermining important human notions of worth,
self-esteem and respect, but it’s also economically damaging. Unequal societies
tend to be less trusting have hired in incidents of violence and suffer more
from poor mental health. Andy and I dedicated the lecture to the work of Joe
Cox a Labour MP and a friend and colleague who was assassinated by a white
supremacist for what he appeared to be failing to
put Britain first when what Joe wanted to do was to make her country a better
place for everyone. Joe’s legacy embodied by the statement that “we have far more
in common than the things which divide us” resonates with a Quaker sense of
inclusivity and since Joe’s death the world has become a great many more and
many more tragedies have been fueled by hatred. I wish to pay tribute to the
victims of those senseless killings across various societies
and cultures and also think of the families and friends because the deep
thread running through all of this is that division and inequality do not help
to solve problems they hinder them by breeding contempt and fear. A little bit
about myself – already introduced me, but I originally
studied languages and worked with asylum seekers for whom English… English was not
the first language then working as a caseworker for David Lammy MP in
Tottenham, and then becoming a local authority councillor and borough leader
and now a Labour MP and the insight and the privilege that it is to be an
elected member and for so many people to trust you with their stories is the
thing which gives a real drive to this work of tackling inequality. The same
problems time and again and I had a busy advice surgery this morning before
arriving, housing need, money worries and a lack of access to secure employment
being the top three. And it’s been my desire throughout my career to see
politics address the needs of deprived and disadvantaged communities and
address the scourge of low pay and the blight of pensioner poverty. Today I
wish to put forward three solutions just because I didn’t want to speak for the
whole hour because I want to hear your feedback. Three solutions so I’m going to
address housing, wages and the epidemic of knife crime. So having an affordable
stable home in 21st century Britain should be a given and we know from the
work of Quaker Homeless Action and others many of you are probably working
in this yourselves, we’re faced with a housing crisis of epic proportions, not
only is it the result of a highly unequal society it also reinforces that
inequality. The tragedy of the preventable Grenville fire
in one of London’s wealthiest boroughs is a stark reminder of the glaring gap
between the haves and have-nots. Several years later many tenants still
remain without secure housing despite that high-profile tragedy and
since 2010 in England alone homelessness has risen by 60 percent and rough
sleeping has risen by 134% and we know at
Friends House that there’s a lot of day-to-day work done with rough sleepers
here to try and connect them into Street Link and other groups which help with
rough sleeping. In the same period the rise in the cost of renting privately
has surged ahead of wage growth there are 1.2 million people on the social
housing waiting list but fewer than six thousand homes were built last year. The
government spending 12 million pounds on a luxury New York apartment for a
British diplomat to live in while he negotiates trade
deals with the US is rather a contrast to those sleeping rough or have been on
social housing waiting lists for years. No Deal Brexit planning has cost 1.4
billion pounds enough capital if spent correctly to provide thousands of social
homes. And at the heart of the housing crisis is the overall lack of supply
it’s quite simple and an increasing reliance on expensive insecure and
unregulated private rented accommodation in privately rented homes. But it doesn’t
need to be this way there are some simple things, some simple solutions to
this divided situation which we could put into place very quickly. Not just
building more council homes but offering secure long-term tenancies in the past
people rented for a short time in the private sector before either being able
to purchase a home or being accepted on a social housing waiting list, but now
there are millions of families for whom living in a privately rented
accommodation will be bringing up their families for life and of course at any
time a landlord can give notice and then sell the property or
go on and do other things with that property thereby taking away the
home of a family and that’s why the government really needs to take a
long-term commitment to not just more affordable homes, because that will take
time, but also to reforming the privately-rented sector. One of my constituents was
faced with a desperate situation recently, the council had tried to locate
her and her disabled child hundreds of miles away from London in Telford in
Shropshire because of the lack of affordable housing off options in the
borough. And some of you who are familiar with the situation will be aware that
the housing rates which boroughs can house people in and social health in
privately rented homes has changed and most housing in London doesn’t fit into
that category, which is why the borough was seeking accommodation outside London.
This would have been away from the child’s hospital and all of the
constituents support networks. Fortunately we won the battle and kept
that constituent and her child in their home borough, but sadly her case is not
unique. My caseworkers and I frequently have to keep vulnerable constituents in
Hornsey and Wood Green from being pushed out of London to areas where there’s
more albeit affordable homes but low-cost and insecure. It comes back to
the same thing about supply more supply of affordable housing being desperately
needed. As the mayor of London has said we need four times the current annual
government funding for genuinely affordable homes – that’s in the capital
it would be less outside of London. There also need to be changes in the law to
allow councils to buy up land more cheaply and reforms to private tenancy
to give tenants a security of tenure and to stop landlords from hiking up rents,
way above wage levels wage increases the other thing which could be much more
effectively used is the basic visiting of any homes which are procured through
a public provider whether that’s a social landlord
a council which is a landlord or privately owned homes because the
conditions that some people are still living in, regardless of London or
outside London, are really Victorian in terms of damp. Very expensive for heating
and yet completely wasteful in terms of the the energy used and there’s much,
much more that could be done quite easily and quite cheaply. My second point
is on wages and that obviously links in very closely with the housing question.
The concentration of wealth and job opportunities in London creates vast
inequalities between the capital and the rest of the UK. Career progression and
better paid work is more likely if people move regions, particularly coming
to London and too often towns and other cities do not have the employment
infrastructure to ensure career progression, notably in professions like
law and accountancy and obviously those from wealthier backgrounds are more
likely to be able to make that kind of move with the resources and grab those
opportunities wherever they may be and we know from the research of both Allen
Milburn and then Martin Milburn on social mobility that this continues to
be a big social mobility setback the way that the globalised economy has put
London and jobs in London far ahead of those in other regions. Devolving empower
and prestige to local government and combined authorities would be a way to
ensure a more even spread of growth and new jobs and will make our economy less
reliant on the capital. Meaningful, secure work in a decent wage underpin a fair
society, yet the UK has one of the highest rates of income inequality in
Europe. While unemployment is at a 44 year low in-work poverty is
shamefully rampant causing record numbers of households to rely on food
banks. Indeed a record 1.6 million emergency food
parcels were given out by the Trussell Trust.
Is anybody here involved in a food bank in their neighborhood?
I knew the Quakers would be. So the Trussell Trust last year widely believed
to have been the result of benefit cuts Universal Credit delays and rising
poverty. UK households have experienced flatlining living standards due to a
lack of economic and pay growth and average incomes are not likely to rise
materially over the next two years either. This of course inextricably linked to
the housing crisis for people on average wages rent is unaffordable and getting
on the property ladder is almost impossible without recourse to the bank
of mum and dad. What’s clear is that Universal Credit has been a total
failure and along with other MPs and I know Quakers have made representations
to parliamentarians on this question, many people are calling for the
five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit to be scrapped
and for benefits to be up-rated in line with the cost of living because as many
here will be aware benefit rates have been frozen
so as energy bills and other things have gone up benedick benefit rates have been
frozen which meant slowly households have been
flatlining while the cost of living has been going up. I believe the rollout of
Universal Credit which will only serve to widen the gap between the rich and
poor should be halted immediately. A cocktail of insecure, low paid work and
stagnant wages pushed millions into a permanently precarious financial
position leading to a consumer debt crisis. Rather than being about people
living beyond their means, as some would have us believe, it’s about people whose
incomes have been squeezed so tight for so long they cannot make ends meet
however hard they try. This couldn’t be illustrated more clearly than by the
fact that National Health Service workers and council workers are among
the biggest users of payday loan companies and recently
one of the government departments opened a food bank for their own staff. Real
wages are lower now than they were in 2010 and nearly 10 million people, a
third of the workforce, are in insecure work characterised by zero-hour
contracts. Rather than offering people flexibility in control by allowing
employees to choose their own hours to suit their needs
zero-hour contracts put people in a precarious situation where they don’t
know how much money they will receive from week to week. While real wages in
the finance sector have grown by as much as £120 a week
average working people are £800 a year worse off than they were
in 2010. So in-work poverty is not only morally wrong but economically
illiterate. In 2014 taxpayers spent eleven billion pound a
year topping up low wages paid by UK companies, 11 times the cost of benefit
fraud for that year. Rather than attacking benefit claimers claimants for
sponging off the state or not working hard enough, we must hold corporations
accountable. There needs to be proper enforcement of national minimum wage as
a bare minimum and one way to do this would be to devolve it from the HMRC
which is rather removed to local authorities who could visit workplaces
and ensure that national minimum… national minimum wage payments were
being used in every workplace in their locality. An even better solution to
eliminating in work poverty would be a commitment from both the private and
public sector to pay a living wage to all of its workers, because a
prerequisite of any sustainable industrial strategy should be a resolute
rejection of poverty pay. One in five UK workers over, 5 million people, earn less
than the living wage. The living wage which is £9 an hour in the UK and
£10.55 per hour in London and this is the voluntary living wage that I’m
talking about, is independently calculated based on the actual cost of
living. Paying a living wage is as the name suggests about live allowing
workers to truly live not just survive, a wage not a
handout, about earning contribution, reciprocity and the dignity of work. As a
borough leader I brought our cleaning team in-house and increase their pay
just by paying the voluntary living wage. When I suggested this proposal no one
argued, but when I stated that I would do this by cutting the pay of the chief
executive by £30,000… £50,000 a chorus of
naysayers erupted to tell me how we would never be able to find a good chief
exec at that low wage. Not only is paying employees a living wage the decent thing
to do it’s also good for business. According to a study carried out by the
living wage foundation, 86% of businesses stated that paying
a living wage improves the reputation of their business. 75% said
that it increased motivation and retention rates for employees and
58% said that it improved relations between managers and their
staff. Going beyond a living wage some companies have taken exemplary steps in
creating a more egalitarian relationship with their staff, we know about the home
entertainment retailer Richer Sounds which is the latest company to adopt an
employee ownership model, following the footsteps of John Lewis and Riverford
organic farmers, so by transforming… transferring shares into a trust Richer
Sounds employees, minus the directors, will receive a £1000 bonus for each
year they’ve worked for the retailer to thank employees for their loyalty and
hard work and to give them a more reciprocal relationship in which they
can have their say on the running of the business. And more companies could adopt
this model, not only to give workers a financial boost, but to create a less
hierarchical working environment and more stability in the workforce. The
government should also immediately require all employers to publish their
internal pay ratios between the highest and lowest paid as opposed to average
paid employees bringing much-needed transparency to the low pay versus high
pay debate the political economists Will Hutton has
suggested that under normal circumstances no public sector employer
should exhibit an internal pay ratio higher than one to 20 when I was a
borough leader of an inner city borough with thousands of employees we got our
differential down to one to 11, so it can be done there’s a lot more that
Parliament could be doing to ensure that everyone gets a fair wage starting by
publishing internal pay differentials as I’ve mentioned and also paying everyone
a living wage would be a huge step towards a crack eradicating in-work
poverty, supporting businesses to adopt an employee ownership model would also
create this. We could also look at ensuring an even spread of new jobs
outside the capital so that people don’t feel the need to move to London to get a
good job. My third point and finally is on knife crime and sadly this isn’t just
a problem in our cities but is increasingly a problem outside London as
well. Countries that exhibit high levels of inequality between groups are more
likely to experience violent conflict the more equal countries, it’s
unsurprising then that we’re in the throes of a knife crime epidemic. After falling
for several years knife crime in England and Wales is rising again. Homicides in
the last year rose to their highest level in over a decade with 732 people
killed in England and Wales. Offences involving knives also rose by 6%,
some of the knife crime incidents in the capital have happened in my own
constituency and the impact and the ripple effect on the community has been
horrific. I’ve also received dozens of letters and emails from constituents
fearing for their children’s lives and it’s a sorry state of affairs when
people don’t feel safe in communities. And many MPs have been recognising this
and working hard in Parliament, but as I said before it’s quite hard to get that
message across while the Brexit debate is very loud in
our ears. A public health approach to violence has for some time being
considered to be a way of tackling the root causes. By analysing the risk
factors for committing violent crime we can see that income inequality is a
significant driver for knife carrying. Young people who live in very deprived
areas and have few educational or employment opportunities may be less
likely to see potential for their future and therefore more vulnerable to claims
that crime is an option for achieving status and resources, we’re also seeing
much more aggressive forms of grooming of children and young people in our high
streets and that’s across the board. And also of course on the internet on
people’s mobile phones, and we know that there’s a link between school exclusion
and knife crime. We also know that being at risk of school exclusion. or worse
being excluded is detrimental to young people’s mental health. It makes young
people feel as though the system has given up on them and can make them feel
as though all they can do is resort to this life of crime which occasionally is
presented in a very glamorous way. A public health approach to violence is
preventative rather than focusing on changing just individual behavior, it’s a
traditional strategy to tackle violent crime as a community. We’ve got two
examples one is one from abroad from the city of Cali in Colombia and Rodrigo
Guerrero who was the public health specialist won the 1992 mayoral election
on the promise that he would reduce reduce the rising levels of violence
which he did reducing the homicide rate by 30% between 1994 and 1997. He
set up a program in which risk factors for violence were identified which
shaped the priorities for actions. Another part of the program was to
provide education on civil rights matters for both the police and the
public together including television advertising at peak viewing times
highlighting the importance of tolerance and a community-based approach. Over the
course of the program special projects were set up to provide economic
opportunities and safe recreational facilities for young people. Proposals
were discussed in consultation with local people and the city administration
ensured the continuing participation and commit
of the community. This reduction in the number of homicides allowed the law
enforcement authorities to devote scarce resources to combatting more organised
forms of crime. Furthermore public opinion in Cali shifted strongly from a
passive attitude towards dealing with violence to a vociferous demand for more
prevention activities. And I know from my own work locally that having a school
hosting a meeting about knife crime which is quite a brave thing for schools
to do because they don’t want to be associated with crime, does bring the
community together in a very special way having 300 families, members of families,
young people, parents, grandparents and having police, mentors, the MP, the head
teacher all saying the same thing and actually talking about it does go some
way to having that debate, but I’ve noticed in my own communities that it’s
in the more closely-knit but poorer communities where it’s easier to have
that discussion whereas the crime is going across the whole of my
constituency and in some of the other areas where people don’t want to talk
about this it’s still happening, but we find it harder to have those
conversations and so I want to have your views as to how to tackle that one.
Closer to home and more recently Scotland managed to reduce knife crime
dramatically by adopting a similar approach. In 2005 Scotland had the second
highest murder rate in Western Europe and Scots were more than three times
more likely to be murdered than people in England and Wales. Between April 2006
and April 2011 40 children and teenagers were killed in homicides involving a
knife in Scotland, between 2011 and 2016 that figure fell to just eight. Tougher
sentences and stop and search were not behind these dramatic decreases, rather
these sorts of criminalising measures had been shown to widen the gap between
the police and those targeted and one of the key aims of Scotland’s public health
approach to violence reduction was to rebuild trust within communities. There’s
a particular focus as well on hospitals often at accident emergency when a
youngster comes in as a victim of a knife crime that he or she will feel
that they can speak to a health professional, so crucially it was about
training up frontline health workers to discuss a decision on the part of a
young person to decide to do things differently, to cooperate with police and
to decide to do a different… have a different approach. One of the factors
stopping many of the investigation of these knife crimes is the lack of
willingness of young people to trust the authorities, to tell what happened and
who is to blame for these for this violence. The focus in Scotland was on
offering routes into employment so that those at risk of knife violence could
get their lives back on track. By targeting prevention through education
and early years support we can also address the adverse childhood
experiences that define the lives of so many future offenders. Taking heed of
lessons learned in Scotland and in concert with Scottish public health
experts the Mayor of London has just launched the Violence Reduction Unit
trying to pick up the best practice and apply that to our boroughs here. It
comprises a variety of services and involves communities in part of
designing and working towards solutions. The idea is that a healthy safe start in
life for children could save lives by keeping them in a positive educational
setting and providing life opportunities. I recently met with the Secretary of
State for Communities and Local Government, Mr Brokenshire, to discuss
with him a specific project just for my own constituency which would look at
which children in year eight or year nine are the most likely to be a victim
or a perpetrator of knife crime so that we can put in the resource at that age
of 13 or 14 rather than waiting until 17 or 18. Once the child’s got to 18 very,
very difficult to have an effect. So, in conclusion, just as the problems of
a divided society are interlinked so too are its solutions, striving towards a
society in which work is meaningful and offers decent pay is not only a laudable
goal in and of itself, but a step towards tackling the disillusionment amongst the
workforce which has been proven to be linked in the case of young people to
knife crime. What we need is bold transformative and joined-up
policy-making. We need bottom-up approaches, we need to listen to local
people. To tackle housing inequality we must invest in a program of mass social
house building, similar to after the Second World War. We must also address income inequality as I’ve said about the living wage and
enforcing the national minimum wage as well, and publishing those pay
differentials so that we understand that gap between the most wealthy and those
on the lowest incomes. And finally on our public health approach to violent crime
we could cut the number of homicides, but also that crucial ripple effect into our
communities, transforming young people’s lives and giving them hope for a better
future. I’d like to thank everybody for
listening and I’m very keen now to have your views on those three areas that
I’ve prioritised and also just to mention I’m very aware that as Quakers
many of you are either in restorative justice programs with young
people or housing in equality or even working on becoming living wage
communities, so it’d be lovely to hear some examples from your own
neighborhoods as well. Thank you. Haifa: Thank you, Catherine. Friends please do continue
to uphold Catherine and one another as we open the space to offer reflections
and questions. There are people with roving microphones on hand, so please if
you wish to offer a question or reflection either stand if you’re able
or raise a hand and do wait for the microphone to come to you. I see a
question behind you there. Audience member: Thank you very much for
covering so much ground with with so many interesting ideas you mentioned at
the end the need for build and transformative policies. I would like to
see a government commit to bringing house prices back into a sensible
relationship with incomes. When I was a young adult house housing costs were
maybe 25% of income and now they’re often 50% and until that changes people
won’t have the ability to pay the taxes that we need for better public services.
I think this is more than just about increasing supply it’s about changing
the tax treatment of housing, it’s about managing the supply of mortgages, it’s a
whole suite of policies that need to be brought together with a 10-year plan to
get that ratio back down to something that’s affordable for both house buyers
and house renters, thank you. Haifa: I’ll take a couple more questions. Audience member: Thank you. I hope
you can hear, is that better? Yes I always wonder whether the debate on income
would be helped by bringing up two sets of figures at once, not just averages but
also median because I understand that at the moment the average in the UK is
somewhere like 25 or 26,000 while the median is more like 20,000 and I think
that decision makers and those who influence decisions quite often lose
sight of of the reality for the vast majority they… a recent
survey of middle-class people thought that the average would be about 40,000
because they were taking themselves as the normal sort of income level and I
think most of us know that 40,000 is about double the median at least. Thank
you. Haifa: Thank you Friend. I see another hand here to my left. Audience member: Hello. I knew in your talk you
did mention in one stage the austerity measure austerity measure is not to
punish that population and no political party you want that to be to be put
themselves into danger that making that population enemy. Some people believe it
is the world or three the worldwide economic crashes and it is all they
going to be created by the people artificially, imaginary it goes for the
time being and gradually it crashes and until another another system develop
whole country is developing another system and to to survive for next
hundred years, so it is it is any political party will be in a position
they have to do they have to follow the austerity measure after world war that
austerity measure during wartime austerity measure that is very vital it
is not any political decision it is the who is has the depth study of the human
population and how the human society and economy goes down either in natural
calamities or economical downfall all over the world so possibly you can give
some clue because of you did mention that
in Asia and that that in conservative government that brought about to punish
thought to or to make the people unhappy so any better idea you have got about
that that without austerity measure we can we can survive for 150 years
thank you pasta Kathmandu on respond great Thank You Haifa so on the house
prices question I mean this is crucial because a lot of people are on these low
wages and therefore this feeling of not being able to get onto the housing
ladder is one of the things which you know effects many many different groups
of people and sometimes people say to me well we should change the model and
everybody should just be able to rent but even that idea currently is not
possible because renting is so expensive as well I think it’d be different if we
had this big supply of genuinely affordable homes to rent people will
feel happy but I think it’s just we’re running out of options
and that’s why really we need to tackle the privately rented sector at the same
time as trying to build more homes at the same time as reforming the planning
system which because a lot of the property developers tend to hold on to
the land for a very long time they tend in the press to blame local
authorities for failing to pass planning applications but if you look at the
figures local authorities are passing them just you know at the rate that
they’ve always been passing them but there are large amounts of land just
sitting there and the other thing is when a property developer begins to
design and then sell off homes it’s only done in a very sort of controlled way so
that they can make sure that they get the top dollar for their development so
the friend who mentioned it is quite right to say that we need to look at
that whole sort of picture including you know the mortgage provision
including tax treatment of properties and including the way that the housing
supply is sort of eked out so that it’s always in desperate need therefore we
always have to pay the top price for it and those of us who have been involved
in planning over the years local authority level all know the way that
this works it’s very slow so that the demand is always really intense
so that people will put every single penny that they have into these new
homes and that’s the way that our planning system is really sort of on the
side of the developer much more than after the Second World War we had an
incredible crisis because so many homes have been bombed the government has had
to get involved and build more social homes and some of them were thrown up
and the consequences consequences of that for social housing providers it’s
quite clear because some of the condition of the properties is quite
poor but I think what we’re lacking now is the urgency to tackle it in the way
that we did post Second World War because obviously you could see the
devastation it was terrible but there’s so many symptoms of that
same level of crisis whether it’s the rough sleeping whether it’s you know
people in their 40s still paying extortionate amounts of rent and still
being on this flat wage structure and you know we just need to be able to
recognize those symptoms and see that we have to tackle that around the housing
supply issue but it was also at the same time as all those other measures
otherwise we are going to end up with a real sense of a loss of hope and also a
sense of transient populations so many people have to move home so regularly
that it’s stopping us from building up the communities which we need to on the
question of average and median incomes just to give you one example to impress
upon friends here when I was first employed as a caseworker for an MP for
David Lammy back in 2000 after he was elected following a by-election I was
shocked to realize when I was appointing a caseworker my
self nineteen years later I’m still offering the same amount of money and
it’s just that that’s just an average job it’s a sort of a but you know it
requires somebody probably probably with a degree or experience in some kind of
advice work and it just does show that you know 19 20 years later there’s still
that same amount in basically a public sector work and it’s considered to be a
really good job but it’s not you know it’s not well paid and I think your
other point really is that decision-makers are used to being on
high incomes they just out of touch with most people who are living on you know
minimum wage minimum wage is about 17 to 18 thousand a year looking at Haifa here
who works for unison and recently when I was doing some door-knocking for the
Peterborough by-election actually I was chatting to a guy who said look we’re
both on minimum wage jobs we’re in our late 30s probably going to be in those
jobs forever and we’re on 30,000 as a household and we just cannot make ends
meet you know and I think it’s that trying to kind of work out because it
also from a time point of view if you have children and you’re working
full-time then there’s all these other costs around childcare around other
things and you know I think people really are a breaking point
yeah and finally on the cyclical nature of these banking crashes and the fact
that the cycles come round again from our friend here there’s no doubt that
they do come in cycles but there’s also no doubt that governments can do
something about it and you know the fact that a government can spend 1.4 billion
on No Deal preparation tells me that that money can be spent on capital for
housing or it can be spent on you know our hospitals or it could be spent on
our children’s schools or providing proper universal credit provision so
that we don’t have to have people in food banks so I think it’s about
priorities and it’s a what kind of priorities we elect people
to put in and using the political system which we have to encourage more hope and
more of a sense of focusing on people rather than on debates about obscure
ideas which sadly are not progressing us any further Thank You Catherine we have
time for more questions or reflections okay to my right it’s maybe a
comparatively minor point but one of the worst aspects I think about Universal
Credit which I know from personal experience is that it makes planning for
people on universal credit completely impossible and I think it shows what by
intention of punitive system it is and everything that we would encourage
people to do plan for your future be sensible you know know what you’re going
to do in the future it’s such a that becomes impossible for people on
universal credit they won’t tell you from one month to the next
what you will be getting on universal credit and it could be 50 P or it could
be more but for a lot of people they simply cannot plan which I think for a
mature country is and we try to bring children up these economically being
economically savvy is totally counterproductive and you know appalling
really thank you take one more right up the back thank you um let’s go ask you from
talking about knife crime about the role that you think drug policy reform could
possibly play in that I think we’ve seen in terms of county lines and the issues
that that’s brought and in terms of broader racial disparity and how drug
offenses are treated and in the way that they damage on trust between certain
communities in the police could legalization or just decriminalization
or just a different approach to how we treat drug offenses pay a role in
tackling the knife primary damage that you talked about on the universal credit
point I completely agree about the planning
because when constituents come to see me they have their mobile phone and they
just show me a list of amounts that they’ve received and they’re all
different and I think this sort of need to keep updating and things and also I
feel very strongly that taking people out of the whole Universal Credit sort
of interviewing system is really inhuman and really lacking in compassion because
not even the benefit agency people can really tell them it goes all through the
computer and I feel this is a really strong reason as to why we have so many
people who are homeless because a lot of people just can’t cope with that
everything being mechanized in that way everything being sort of on a computer
screen even though we think everybody’s got a phone these days actually I think
for a lot of people with either dyslexia or language problems they just can’t
cope and they get these notices your universal credit will be cut and then
when it does get cut I think then they don’t know what to do they sort of
freeze and that’s when we get stuck getting the advice about you’re going to
lose your home and I see new people who are on the streets who I think do not
look like they’ve been sleeping rough for a long time but they’re just
obviously in a terrible situation with universal credit and it’s what you’re
saying about planning but it’s also the fact that everything has to go through
this big sort of computer system I’m not at all against the use of a calculator
or I think just palming off people into a
sort of system where it’s just on a computer when actually what people need
is a human being to listen to and to talk to and I think that’s really clear
from all the research that’s being done on loneliness that loneliness can
actually be really bad for your health and I know that that’s what’s happening
with a lot of our homeless population is literally nobody to speak to in the day
and nobody to speak to about problems and people often tell me when they come
to my tea which is every second Friday at a library that I’m the only person
who still provides actual face-to-face interview time and I know that GPS say
the same thing that they’re the only people who will give ten minutes to
somebody and that’s part of the reason I think why we’re seeing GPS very
overworked and the fact that a lot of them are retiring early and so on
because the nature of the work is so intense and the problems are so complex
because in the old days you would have had four or five different officers that
people could go to sit down get their problem sorted out and now with
universal credit it’s just so lacking in any sort of compassion or humanity and
that five week wait I mean how would we feel if we just didn’t have an income
for five weeks to think of I could cope and so you know if you add all that up
it’s I’m sure it’s contributing to the suicide rate going up I’m sure of it
I’ve had one disabled residents say to me that you know if they put her on to
Universal Credit she’s not gonna wait for it she’s just gonna take her own
life I mean you know people are desperate and that’s because of this
system which just completely lacks any humanity to it whatsoever now on the
question of the knife crime very true on the sort of racial profiling of knife
crime I had a meeting myself as to herring gay MPs myself and David Lammy
went to see the National Crime Agency and that was some time before the head
of the National Crime Agency Leah noaa’s came out and basically said that crime
related to drugs is out of control and when the National Crime
Agency had admits that on public television that’s really worrying we’ve
all kind of known that as MPs because we see a lot of that in our surgeries a lot
of mothers coming in and saying my son’s in jail didn’t know that he had anything
to do with drug dealing but some of the ways that young people are being groomed
is so sophisticated and it’s not obviously you mentioned the racial
profiling but it’s not just a certain type of young person it’s it’s really
network does everybody this thing that young people get told which is some make
your five pounds into 50 pounds overnight right that is so tempting for
a young person and that is what’s happening they’re being groomed in you
know McDonald’s in the high street and then they’re as you say the county lines
and it’s all around the drug trade and of course we know that the end consumers
of drugs are often well-off people who buy expensive Class A drugs so you know
I think that there’s a very big debate to be had there and I think we need to
have it in Parliament and then we need to make some decisions it’s not an easy
one because the messaging that you send is really important on drugs to young
people so and also think everybody’s watching very carefully what’s happening
Canada where they’ve basically decriminalized cannabis to some degree
and everybody’s watching to see what’s the impact of that on things like crime
rates on you know family life on young people and but it is the sort of debate
that we desperately need to have but as I mentioned before anything that doesn’t
start with B and ends with T doesn’t get debated in Parliament and therefore no
legislations coming forward and nothing is actually moving but certainly you
know looking again at how we tackle drug-related crime is crucial we have time for more questions so I see
a hand here to my left no if you wait so if we wait for the microphones and
access issue yeah oh hello yeah NAT so that was very interesting
perspective thank you and I would like to ask you in terms of the context of
disconnection from nature a violent system that we live in sharing the
buildings that we would already have land and power redistribution within
communities and a new systemic model of democracy and models like community land
Trust’s and so on where everybody’s responsible for producing sustainably
and sharing and caring how much do you think we have a complete systemic issue
and we need total sort of review and reorganization systemically of democracy well that’s a very big question I would
like to stop having referenda that’s for sure because the way that our
parliamentary system has built up over a long period of time it doesn’t deal with
binary questions well it the way that we work in Parliament is you have a concept
which comes in through a legislation and at the first reading you have quite an
open debate about the principles behind an idea and then at second reading you
obviously amend them and you get into committees which are proportional to
Parliament and then you debate amendments and you try and improve the
original idea and you take soundings from a whole lot
from people and that’s where for example your parliamentary officer at Quakers
would come and speak to people about speak to parliamentarians about say
let’s say the domestic violence bill which is meant to be going through soon
which is really slow and you know you get experts in from women’s refuges and
they advise and they say here’s some suggested wording and they really kind
of hone the legislation and then obviously you have committee stage where
it’s debated again and then third reading and normally you know then you
have your votes so that you feel as though you can represent your
constituents on the matter in principle and also on all the different amendments
which come up so that’s right I think that it’s quite a good system in terms
of the deliberative nature of it what I worry about though is when the thing
which that process is being asked to address is a referendum which is a
binary thing because no amount of legislation and we’ve tried can fit the
binary nature of the question so it’s like the exam question and you’re meant
to write an essay when it’s really multiple-choice and so no amount of
essay writing gets you into and I think some of the promises around referenda
are really difficult with our system so if we were going to go more towards a
direct democracy system I think it would lead to more unhappiness because it
would raise an expectation about a yes/no answer to everything which i
think is really difficult to achieve and I think that the deliberative nature of
legislation where you can break into small groups and actually discuss things
yes you might have to vote on them but there is quite a lot of negotiation
which goes on within those deliberative processes because I feel the direct
democracy route is very problematic and I think we’ve seen that with the bricks
of debate where by definition half the country will be upset with the outcome
and I feel that the parliamentary system while not perfect and particularly the
way that we set where it’s two swords difference between us and the other side
and some of you will have seen that if you’ve visited Parliament the reason
that the House of Commons is that bit of green carpet in between the two front
benches it’s because it’s exactly two swords on either side difference
it’s very combative some of the good cross-party work actually happens in the
committees and in the committee of the whole house
you don’t necessarily get the full participation that you do in you know
when the voting all these happen but I think depending on what the question is
you can have quite interesting debates and I think if you’re getting good
advice you know from say women’s refuges of domestic violence or from the Quakers
if it was about a charity issue or whatever the particular question is then
I think you can come up with some really good legislation my problem is more
about we had it’s not that we haven’t got good legislation on the law books
it’s that we haven’t resourced often the enforcement of that legislation so the
domestic abuse bill for example which is going to be coming through Parliament
shortly we have the most fantastic advice from women’s aid in all these
places but I just know that unless we resource the police more women are going
to get killed by violent partners so you know I think it’s all about matching the
resource to the implications of the legislation that might not be answering
your question completely but I’m around later so Ned please come
and find me because but I feel going towards a direct democracy situation
unless we Institute what Switzerland has which is a debate in committees before
you put the referendum so everybody knows the cost of something
everybody knows the implications of something everybody knows exactly what
they will get if they do vote yes or no on this particular thing then I feel
it’s just raising an expectation which is very very difficult to meet and
that’s how you get some of the scenes that we’ve seen in our town centers and
outside Parliament which have been very violent and not very quickly because I
think people have been led to believe that our Parliament can give them
something which is very difficult to to provide Thank You Catherine
unfortunately friends will come to the close of the lecture time today but I’d
like to give a massive thanks to Catherine for all the food for thought
that she’s given us and we continue looking at some of these issues
throughout yearly meeting as we reflect on our own privilege I will pass over to
make for some announcements yes Thank You Katherine and thank you –
for chairing the meeting just one or two little notices the AGM of the Quaker
socialist society takes place this afternoon at 3 o’clock in the st.
Pancras the church hall which is nearby but is not the church itself or close to
the church we did send out notices to qss members by email those on email to
show you where the new venue is which is in Lansing Street which is off ever shot
Street next to the Houston station so it’s not far away but we do have maps
also if people want to go and have not had that previous email giving
directions so alison has them over there so we’re hoping at the AGM to start a
discussion about the section chapter 23 social responsibility in which is in
Quaker faith and practice given the fact that faith and practice is now in the in
the in the process of review we feel that qss may have something interesting
to say to that chapter of faith and practice but in that debate that may
also say something to qss about the our future and our future direction and
where we should be working in the future there are membership leaflets knocking
about in the room if you’ve not already had the opportunity to get one if you
can’t get one today we are at the group fair on Sunday when we will have
membership leaflets and other publications available and there are
copies available now and there will be on that group fare of Graham Taylor’s
wonderful book about a desalter from whom the title of our talks
well Aida and Alfred Salter are taken and so if you want to put the perch
– copy that book we will be at the group there but they’re also available here at
ten pounds just to say also that copies of the talk will be available through
our newsletter when we’re able to do that which you can have online or hard
copies and hopefully it’ll be on our website or the the talk will be on our
website and we’ll find its way to YouTube no doubt thank you very much
indeed for attending today it’s so gratifying to see so many people here
today this fairly inconvenient hour and I’m sorry that we have to cut short what
was promising to be a very interesting debate but Kathleen did you say you’ll
be around for a little while yeah so and and no doubt people will want to discuss
the themes raised then so thank you for coming and do enjoy yearly meeting thank

One comment on “Quaker Socialist Society Salter Lecture: Solutions for a divided society”

  1. Nicola Spurr says:

    Thank you Catherine West. Much food for thought.

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