We've teamed up with Action 2015 to create an active youth panel made up of representatives from multiple development agencies, as part of their activities they decided to launch a blog with comments, insight and analysis in to this years General Election from a youth perspective. Read our favourite entries here.
THE FOREIGN AID DEBATE
From what I’ve seen during this election campaign, there’s been a lot of rhetoric around our protected foreign aid budget. ‘0.7% of our GDP!’ politicians splutter, wild eyed. Even those pledging to protect it seem to find the concept hard to defend to the public. What I haven’t heard anyone say yet is that promoting development abroad means more stability for us, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying for a second there isn’t a moral, humanitarian duty to support people suffering beyond our borders. But there’s also an argument to be made to the more sceptical among us, who just see this money leaking across the channel, and falling down the drain. People are worried about immigrants flooding our country, of them pouring in from Africa and benefitting from our prosperity. The benefit of immigrants in the UK is a debate for another time, but for now let’s focus on why people are attracted to Britain.
Let’s be honest, it’s clearly not for the weather. Thousands of people aren’t drowning in the Mediterranean every year because they’re sick of the sun, and they’re not doing it because they’re looking for an adventure, either. They’re doing it because they want what we have: stability, safety, and some of the basic human rights that have been denied to them.
‘Well, that’s for them to sort out. It’s not our fault that their countries are oppressive’. Well, with the global society we live in (and the hangover from colonialism that’s still giving everyone a headache), that’s simply not true. And even if it’s not our fault, it’s still our problem. People are still going to risk their lives to get across the Med, if what’s going on in their own country is so intolerable that the risk of drowning seems like the better option. Helping countries to develop and become more stable will stop people from having to make this terrible choice, and decrease their apparent burden on our welfare state, too.
What politicians need to start saying is that, by supporting countries to develop, become more stable, and offer more opportunities to their people, the whole world becomes a safer place. According to studies by War Child, people who experience severe violence or conflict find it harder to forge healthy relationships, and run the risk of becoming more violent, dangerous individuals as they grow up. Nations across the world have experienced horrendous conflict over the last few decades, and even if that’s ended, they’re left without the infrastructure or means to rebuild and flourish. This results in poverty, resentment, and extremism, and we’ve all seen through the rise of movements like Boko Haram and ISIL how dangerous unstable states can be.
I’m not saying that the world’s problems are going to be solved instantly through foreign aid: there are all sorts of issues which need to be addressed, and not all of them are directly to do with money. But I am saying that foreign aid is an investment in ourselves and the future prosperity of our country, as much as it is a benefit to people overseas.
By Tabitha Stanmore, a member of the action/2015 youth network
ECONOMY AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The general election campaign is in full swing, with Westminster’s main parties drawing the battle lines over key issues including: economic growth, health care and education. But take a step back from mainstream media reporting, and you’ll notice the endangered elephant in the room. Climate change continues to be a neglected issue.
In September 2015, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are due to be launched; an integrated set of goals designed to promote environmental sustainability, economic development and poverty reduction. That the UK general election subordinates environmental concerns to that of neoliberal economic growth is worrying for two reasons.
First, the UK wields a lot of influence in formulating the SDGs. Second, it shows political disregard to the fact that our society and our economy are bound by a natural biophysical system that sustains life on earth. This disregard extends across the global platform.
Neoliberal attitudes to economic stimulus over the last forty years have led to a global system based on inequality, exploitation, and rising global temperatures, threatening the future of our planet. Environmentally damaging and unsustainable human consumption is leading to fatal destruction: mass deforestation, collapsing ecosystems, and the extinction of diverse animal species.
Between 1970 and 2010, over half of the planet’s wildlife species were lost, as a direct result of burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. According to a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Brazil and Indonesia, responsible for the world’s largest deforestation over the last two decades, continue to abuse their natural resources, handing out $40bn (£27bn) in subsidies to the palm oil, timber, soy, beef and biofuel sectors between 2009-2012 – 126 times more than the $346m they received to protect and preserve their rainforests from the UN’s REDD+ scheme.
Meanwhile, a shell oil tanker moves closer to the Alaskan Arctic, despite over 6 million online petitions protesting against Arctic drilling.
As a result of global warming, pollution, and rapid rates of industrialisation, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, larger than the entire area of the UK and Ireland, is under threat of collapse, while the last male northern white rhinoceros on the planet has been placed under 24-hour armed guard in Kenya, to act as a protection against ivory poachers. Wildlife experts expect the extinction of wild Rhinoceros by 2020.
Bees, responsible for pollinating crop species that feed 90% of the world’s population, are dying at an alarming rate due to unregulated pesticide use, with potentially disastrous consequences for the global human population. World food markets will be damaged, and an increasing global population will feel increasingly hungrier if action to protect bees is not taken.
The evidence demonstrates that current models of economic growth are unstable, and unsustainable. It is the responsibility of our government to take a leading role in tackling climate change abroad, while taking action at home to reduce carbon emissions, and introduce environmentally friendly policies.
Fracking should be abandoned, with increased investment in renewable energy sources, such as off-shore wind generation and solar panels. Pesticides ought to be dramatically reduced, instead prioritising non-chemical farming methods through improved education, safe-farming legislation, and the promotion or organic farming. The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs should research, support, and promote farming methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enable carbon storage.
Lessons in how to create affordable housing can be learnt at a local level, such as Liverpool’s ‘Homes For a Pound’ scheme, encouraging regeneration of abandoned properties rather than development on greenfield sites. Grassroots activism should be encouraged, with subsidies given to those with creative solutions to environmental problems. One such example is ‘Bee The Change’, a social enterprise in Bristol which has been setting up communally run beehives around the city alongside an education programme teaching people to live sustainably.
Now more than ever, we have to advocate the importance of keeping climate change below 2C. In December 2015 world leaders will meet in Paris for the UN’s Climate Change Conference. It is importance we put the pressure on our politicians, especially now during the General Election, to start taking our environmental concerns seriously. The Earth’s resources are finite, and we must protect them. Everything we make, and everything we consume, comes from the Earth. And we only have one. It’s time to heal the wounds of our planet, for the benefit of mankind’s collective future.
James Crawley, Y Care International volunteer, part of the action/2015 youth network
MY VISION FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT – I HOPE THE NEXT GOVERNMENT DELIVERS IT
The UK General Election on May the 7th will decide who will be part of the government that introduces a new set of international development policies – the global Sustainable Development Goals. As such, international development should be a critical issue in the General Election debate. Many of the main political party manifestos recognise the need for UK support to people living in extreme poverty in developing countries. However, the international development debate remains limitedly focused on global and national security, and on commercial opportunities. The narrative is also based on superficial grounds, on ensuring the basic necessities of life for every human being, rather than tackling the structures that deprive the marginalised.
The issue of international development during this General Election campaign should not be merely about promoting economic growth and safety. It should rather be about tackling inequalities and furthering inclusion. As social inequalities hinder those processes that empower people in developing countries, international development should shift its focus to those inclusive processes of social justice that enable people in developing countries to decide how they want to pursue these goals.
According to the UNDP report (2013), Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries, inequality is highly linked to limited democratic participation, as the poorest are excluded from participation in the common institutions of society. As such, they are more likely to be denied their capabilities and agency. This is also exactly why international development matters. On a programmatic level international development can reduce disparities in education, health and nutrition, ensure inclusion by promoting access of women and girls to these public services. On a governance level, the international development sector can support fairer policy-making processes where the excluded can increase participation in decision-making forums and decide about matters that affect their lives.
I believe that international development has the potential to restructure power concentration by enhancing a broader-based democratic engagement. As such, what we advise all parties to adopt is a more inclusive agenda of international development that takes into account those inequalities that obscure further poverty reduction.
By Voula Kyprianou, part of the action/2015 youth network.
GENDER EQUALITY AND THE SDGS
Writing a blog about the SDGs concerning gender equality sounded easy enough, especially as it is a topic that I am incredibly passionate about. However, when I attempted to begin this blog, I realised that the topic was vast and encompassed so many instances of inequality that analysing the entirety of gender equality, and how to empower all women and girls, was not going to be possible.
So, I’m taking a different approach. I have chosen three of the other SDGs and, using the gender equality goal as a central point, I will demonstrate some of the ways in which the goals intersect and interact with each other. Although each one can stand on its own as an aim, many of the goals will overlap. This interaction should, hopefully, ensure that the goals cover all bases and really achieve what they set out to do.
Millions of children around the world do not go to school, and even a large amount of children who do, don’t receive a good quality of education. The SDGs promote that good quality education must be provided for all children. This is directly related to gender equality as girls are less likely than boys to receive an education, which has knock effects throughout the rest of their lives. Not only is equal education important in and of itself, but women who have been educated are less likely to die in childbirth, less likely to start having children at a younger age and more likely to break the cycle of poverty and be able to find work. Education is a key factor in ending many elements of gender inequality, as well as empowering women and girls to achieve their potential throughout their lives.
Sanitation may seem like a strange part of the SDGs to highlight as important in terms of gender equality. However, I’ve chosen it as this issue has recently been raised here in the UK. A project called The Homeless Period has brought attention to the lack of sanitary items provided for homeless women. I’m sure many women reading this will know that feeling of slight panic when you realise you’ve started your period but forgotten to bring tampons or pads out with you – but I can hardly imagine how it would feel to know that there was no hygienic option available. The issue of female sanitation also affects women and girls across the world. UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 school age African girls miss classes or drop out of school due to a lack of sanitary facilities. The problem is that when infrastructure is put into place, whether here or on other continents, the default is often assumed to be male. Many toilet facilities in African schools do not cater to for girls on their period, and here in the UK it is easier for a homeless man to find a razor than for a woman to find sanitary items. To achieve available and sustained sanitation, those who have periods must not be pushed aside and forgotten.
The eleventh sustainable development goal aims to make cities and human settlements safe places for people to live. I want to take this one step further and say that you cannot have safe cities, without having safe homes. In the UK two women a week are murdered as a result of domestic violence – I hesitate to say our cities are anywhere near safe when even a woman’s home can be a dangerous place. This bank holiday Monday 4th May, all-women direct action feminist group Sisters Uncut are protesting in London against the continued and life-threatening cuts to domestic violence services. Across the world violence against women and girls continues to be a prevailing issue and, with the help of solid Sustainable Development Goals, we must work to create safer environments for girls to grow and become empowered women.
By Stephanie Scott – action/2015 youth panelist
HOW ‘GOOD’ IS GOOD GOVERNANCE?
Goal 16 in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for all actors ‘to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.’ This goal is based on the concept of good governance broadly defined as transparent, accountable, inclusive and responsive public institutions.
Ultimately, good governance is an ideal which promotes greater citizen empowerment in all aspects of public decision-making. However, this goal faces some fundamental barriers due to the tension between what the idea seeks to achieve and the realities of global governance.
These barriers are the structural power of the state in global cooperation, the different interpretations of good governance in the post-2015 agenda, and the extent to which the SDGs can promote good governance in political development.
The first barrier relates to the power of the state in global cooperation. During the eighth Open Working Group consultation on the Sustainable Development Agenda in 2014, a session was held on the topic of ‘Conflict Prevention, Post-Conflict Peace-building and the Promotion of Durable Peace, Rule of Law and Governance.’
In this session, Egypt, Syria, Moldova and Guinea explicitly highlighted the importance of ‘state sovereignty’, ‘non-interference’ and a state’s right to ‘self-determination’ according to its own social and cultural norms.
These statements implicitly reflect the criticisms that good governance is an idea being used to impose a more politically integrated world order and that the state is entitled to the basic rights of determining its own governance structures. The interventions presented by these four states demonstrate that despite the increasing participation of non-state actors in global cooperation, the rights of the state in global cooperation still has substantial influence and may impact on the effectiveness of Goal 16.
Another barrier centres on the different interpretations of good governance in the post-2015 agenda. In the UN Secretary-General Synthesis report, global governance is referred to as a ‘transformative shift’, one of the six essential elements of the post-2015 agenda (Justice) and one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In addition, there are at least three varying interpretations of good governance within Goal 16. In Goal 16, good governance is defined within the context of justice and rule of law, as the protection of public financial resources (16.4) and as a means to achieve other development goals (16a, 16b).
These definitions are complementary but better coherence is important because the concept of good governance in the post-2015 agenda extends to state as well as non-state actors. Good governance means different things within different contexts. It can be building a more effective civil service, rule of law, reducing corruption within a country’s political system or better accountability in aid implementation.
In seeking to define more concisely what good governance is, there is a risk, however, of narrowing its definition too much. This limits its applicability across different contexts. On the other hand, having a broad definition also poses the risk of having little impact because it is difficult to make a comparative analysis across different contexts.
The third barrier relates to evaluating the extent to which good governance can be implemented in political institutions at the national level. Political development is primarily endogenous, varies within contexts, is difficult to place within time scales and requires the effective negotiation of power between different groups at the domestic level. How can an external policy arrangement such as the post-2015 agenda make a ‘meaningful’ and ‘transformative’ contribution towards this goal?
By Marion A. Osieyo, part of the action/2015 youth network.
DON'T BELIVE THEM - WE CAN CHANGE OUR WORLD
Up until not too long ago I wasn’t exactly what you’d call political. I’d never written a letter of complaint in my life, I’d never called my local MP (or had any idea who he/she was), I’d never really protested, marched, rallied or even sent an e-mail in anger. I was as likely to be watching the live stream of Big Brother as I was the news and I was pretty sure that John Major was a brand of cigarettes.
In a lot of ways I was the caricature of the apathetic youth; that harsh, unfair stereotype pushed by people in power to dismiss an entire generation. It’s unfair because I was disengaged but never apathetic. And I think back to all my friends who were disinterested in politics then, and who are still disinterested now, and not one of them is simply uncaring. I am yet to come across the person my age who is simply unmoved by issues like poverty, employment, inequality, education, climate change etc. So the problem isn’t the lack of feeling, it’s a lack of action. The question then is why does one not naturally follow the other? I asked people why they weren’t more engaged and I thought about my own experience and the answer that kept cropping up was, “what’s the point? It doesn’t change anything.”
What’s the point?
I’ve come to realize that these three words are toxic and embody some of the most damaging and successful propaganda that we’re exposed to in our society; the idea that we’re alone, isolated and powerless, and so there is no point in worrying about anything but our own interests; an idea that encourages greed, rampant, out of control consumerism, detachment and the destruction of the environment.
Now I was lucky enough to learn, through no fault of my own, that we’re not isolated and that collectively people can change things. Through the unpredictable events of my life I have been fortunate enough to encounter some amazing and passionate people working hard to achieve social goals at home and abroad. Through their work and their successes I realised that we’re not powerless. We are a force for change with unifying goals that can be, and indeed have been, achieved in many cases when we come together and engage.
But we live in a world where that fact can sometimes be hidden from us. A world where we are never taught in our schools about how to engage in a democracy or made to believe that it’s our responsibility as citizens. We’re told we should show up every 4 years and vote but we’re not taught how to lobby our politicians like companies are, or how to organise protests or how to make our voices heard.
It took me over 20 years, a full time job and a degree before one day someone asked me why don’t I write to a locally elected representative about an issue that I was passionate about. The thought had never crossed my mind. Politicians and the powerful were always presented as being so far removed from me that the idea felt like ringing up Jay-Z for a chat. And these are people who are elected and paid by us.
Not only does society not talk to young people about how to get engaged but we also don’t talk about the victories of that kind of engagement either. One evening recently, as I was on my way to a meeting for a movement against homelessness, a friend of mine asked me: “What’s the point? Social movements don’t change anything.”
At that moment I was instantly struck by the irony of my friend saying that, while he was on his way home after an 8-hour workday –something that previous generations had to fight tooth and nail to get and which was by no means a given. Change is presented as something which is so far beyond us and power structures so strictly defined that we can fall into the trap of forgetting the victories we have already had and the power that we wield. We forget all this, so we don’t act. We’re taught to think “What’s the point?” and it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Change is Slow
For the above reasons our outlook is pessimistic but it shouldn’t be; it just needs to be more realistic. This world has seen incredible change but we have to remember that change is rarely, if ever, massive and instantaneous. Collectively we can create wonders but those wonders take time.
Society’s achievements are cumulative. Our entire civilisation has been built incrementally. Maths, science, engineering, art – all our works are built step-by-step, one tiny, seemingly insignificant, contribution after another. One person grunts, another grunts in a slightly different tone and this continues for thousands upon thousands of years until millennia later, we have words and writing and law and democracy and all the other great works which are predicated upon language. None of these achievements would have existed if the 1st people had regarded their monosyllabic and apparently meaningless grunts as we regard our actions today. What if they too had thought, “What’s the point in grunting? No one ever understands me and I’ll be long dead before they ever come up with languages.”
Even in our media we regularly watch films and read stories about heroic individuals. and who changed the world like Gandhi or Dr. King Jr. but we’re rarely exposed to the less sexy truth: change comes from the cumulative effect of countless articles, letters, marches, meetings, riots, rallies, discussions, songs, paintings, stories and 1 billion other actions – actions which were taken by people who are no different to you and I and which must have seemed so tiny and insignificant at the time but without which there could have been no change in the world.
We Can Change the World
Through our action we can make power accountable. Infinitely more oppressive institutions like slavery, racism and tyrannical monarchies have been significantly weakened and almost eradicated from far less powerful positions. We exist among a handful of people in human history who could say and do what they want without being dragged off into the night. You think we can’t get our leaders to commit to reducing greenhouse gases, or scrapping tuition fees? How do you think black slaves in the US felt about their potential for attaining freedom? Or the idea of one of them becoming President?
So act! Write, call, lobby, talk, protest and, most importantly, vote! Change is slow and incremental so never be disheartened if you can’t change the world alone because you’re not supposed to, and you’re not alone! Never hesitate to take a step because you think what’s the point? Every letter of complaint, every angry word and every phone call will be backed up by 6 billion others once you can reject the narrative of powerless individualism that we’re fed and become conscious of the truth: We’ve already changed the world a thousand times over. We are not isolated. We are humanity. And our works are cumulative.
By Amro Hussain, action/2015 Youth Panellist and member of Progressio Empower
THE COSTLY PRICE OF POLITICAL RHETORIC
If politics is the battle of ideas, rhetoric has always been the weapon of choice. Rhetoric uses the art of written or verbal communication to persuade an audience. In theory, this may not seem problematic. We use rhetoric in our personal lives to negotiate with or convince others. However, in British politics, the use of political rhetoric is doing more harm than good.
Ultimately, the use of political rhetoric is for short-term gains; to gain a vote, to pass a bill or a policy. This has two implications. Firstly, it seeks to persuade not empower voters to make a decision based on their individual assessment. Secondly, it does little in building continuous engagement with citizens. The Audit of Political Engagement by the Hansard Society found that only 23% of the public agree that Parliament encourages involvement in politics.
Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for ‘developing effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.’ The use of open data to increase the transparency of decision-making in public policy is necessary, but not enough. Public debates such as Prime Minister’s Questions and the General Election Debates are not effective because the aims of these shows are short-sighted. These shows do little in advancing a culture of accountability to the voter because the style of communication does not increase information to the electorate. As long as political debates centre on maintaining popularity and not on engaging the populace, our political institutions will not be truly democratic. The halls of Westminster must do more to change the rules of the game by reassessing how language is used within the political sphere.
There is the problem of measuring the influence of ideas. How do we assess the impact of language in individual decision-making? How do we monitor and implement policies that limit the use of defamatory rhetoric in particular? Does this impede on fundamental rights of free speech?
Addressing the negative effects of political rhetoric requires both bottom up and top-down efforts. There are a number of citizen led initiatives to help address the issue of political rhetoric. Full Fact, for example, provide a tool to verify assertions by politicians using available statistics and facts on key issues. At the institutional level, the Electoral Commission could and should do more to monitor and enquire about the use of political rhetoric, especially defamatory rhetoric, used by politicians. We must avoid the costly price of rhetoric and ensure we demand full accountable and transparent institutions.
By Marion Osieyo, action/2015 Youth Panellist
EDUCATION – VOLUNTEER TO SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE
We all have treasured memories from our school days. That fresh smell of a new text book, writing your name ever so neatly on the front cover, of school dinner treats, of the excitement of carpet time reading “the Hungry Caterpillar” and that feeling of great pride when you’re rewarded with an oh so shiny sticker which you handpicked yourself. However, many children around the world do not have memories of any school or education experience. The issue of education is one I started to understand the true importance of during my ICS placement in Senegal with Y-Care International. This enriching experience has inspired me to spread awareness of how crucial new opportunities can be in breaking the poverty cycle and developing sustainable futures both in international development and here in the UK.
2015 is a crucial year for planet and people as the Millennium Development Goals are replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals. Education is a key global development issue and many complex sub-issues are involved within this from providing access to education, to monitoring what is actually taught and how it is taught, along with how students are tested throughout their education. However, I have learnt that there is a lot more to education and we can all contribute to providing valuable opportunities in our own ways.
I witnessed street children who don’t have access to a state education. Met children who live in the Darah’s (Qu’ranic schools) – where they can be mistreated, exploited and sent out to beg on a daily basis. Volunteers of the YMCA Kaolack provide regular presentations within various Darah’s on the causes, symptoms and treatments of various life-threatening diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and TB. This form of sharing knowledge and educating them on these illnesses could save lives. Additionally, the YMCA have recently set up micro-farms within a few Darah’s in order to create food security, providing these children with an entrepreneurial opportunity to sell their produce instead of having to go out and beg. The YMCA aim to empower young people through projects like these, providing opportunities that will educate them, become shared experiences and hence maintain sustainable long-term development, demonstrating the importance of providing opportunities in order to tackle education issues.
Yes, there are issues around education that need to be improved, discussed and debated on a global scale. However, it doesn’t just have to centre around a formal system where politicians and education ministers make these crucial decisions. We all have the means to share our own knowledge, skills and expertise. I have had the pleasure of meeting various inspirational individuals who volunteer their time in sharing their knowledge. As rewarding as the end result is, the process is a challenging one. Education volunteers hopefully encourage and inspire others to make a change and difference within their communities. For this they should be celebrated. So teach someone something new – no matter how small, you never know what opportunity it could provide them with and where it could lead to. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
By Nimisha Vara, action/2015 Youth Panellist
INEQUALITY: IT’S JUST GETTING WIDER
Inequality. One word which can cover so much in our society. We are affected by different types of inequality in the UK today such as the gap between the rich and poor, gender, race and also, the inequality between different generations.
In this short blogpost I would like to cover just a few of the issues that we are facing today. The gap between the rich and poor is widening continuously regardless of the recession that we had to go through. I’m still in shock from hearing that the gap between the rich and poor today is greater than it was at the time of the Wall Street Crash. The fact that even after the financial troubles, which the UK has been facing since 2007, there is still no difference between how the majority of us live, is frightening.
A clear example of the widening gap is the amount of food banks that are opening up in local communities. According to the Trussell Trust, there has been a 163% increase in foodbank use in the last year. I have worked with various foodbanks and have seen the people who use these facilities. Most are ashamed of actually going to the foodbank and having to admit, to themselves, that they cannot afford basic things such as food. It is important that politicians take note of this, and look at raising the quality of living conditions for those who are worst off in the UK.
Another really important issue for a lot of young people, is that they do not have the opportunity to buy a house for themselves. Due to inflation, as well as the lack of control on how much housing prices are rising by, means that we either have to rent a place or stay with parents. Whereas I feel that the generation of ‘baby-boomers’ have not had that problem and therefore the majority don’t understand how this is effecting the young. In our society, we are expected to get on the ‘property ladder’ but how can the young hope to achieve that when property costs are so astronomical.
So, how is inequality affecting the young of the UK today? We are worse off and have been for a while. We cannot hope to reach the same goals that society sets for us, as our parents did, in the majority of instances. The two issues that I have raised here are also linked to others, such as the unequal amount of pay that is earned by men and women, even when they have the same job positions. The sad truth is that race also has an impact on how society views you and what opportunities you get.
Surely politicians should look at lessening inequality so that we as the young, have better chances in life to be able to reach our goals. This is why it is important that the UK tackles inequality through agreeing a new SDG framework that will apply as much to us as the rest of the world.
By Nika Savenko, part of the action/2015 Youth Panel network.
FOOD POVERTY HERE AND THERE – WE NEED TO TACKLE IT EVERYWHERE
Let’s set the scene: a family of 4, with 2 children who are slightly undernourished and 2 parents who are skipping meals to make sure their children are getting something for dinner and relying on schools meals to feed them during the day. If you had to guess where would you predict this family was living? Sub-Saharan Africa? South Asia? Well no, they could be living right next door to you.
In 2014 The Trussell Trust reported that 566,146 more individuals received 3 day emergency food aid across the UK compared to the year before. When considering that the year before that the Trussell Trust had already seen an increase of almost 800,000 and that Trussell Trust is just one among hundreds of independent Food Banks across the UK – the food poverty situation in the UK is bleak and getting worse.
Food poverty is generally associated with developing countries, huge natural disasters and humanitarian aid, when in fact around 4 million people in the UK are living in food poverty.
Last year I completed a graduate course in Food Security and Development and like many on my course focused my attention, for the majority of the year, on developing countries and the state of food poverty. But, then it dawned on me, how could I start thinking about how I as an individual could be a part of tackling this international issue if I actually knew very little about what was going on at home.
With this in mind, I dedicated my dissertation and entire summer to finding out more about the state of food poverty right here in the UK. I will admit, despite studying the topic and having seen its effects first hand whilst volunteering with ICS in both Nepal and South Africa, I was shocked. Not only did I read lots of journals, news articles, government policy papers but I went out and visited a number of Food Banks across the country and spoke to volunteers and food parcel recipients to find out more about the actual state of food poverty.
It was clear from my research that despite the huge, and potentially an increasing, need for the services of Food Banks, the government rhetoric was that there was not a need to be addressed. I felt that there was the argument that the UK is able to import or grow enough food to feed the population and therefore what was the issue? But there was, and still is a huge issue.
On 8th December 2014 an All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain was released which looked to produce evidence on the extent and causes of hunger in Britain, the scope of provision to alleviate it and a comparison with other Western countries. Some of the findings include:
We should be a Zero Hunger Britain in which everybody in this country has the resources, abilities and facilities to purchase, prepare and cook fresh, healthy and affordable food, no matter where they live.
The movement needs to evolve to deal with both the symptoms as well as the causes of hunger – causes include the cost of housing, food and fuel.
Greater overall guidance and drive is required, otherwise dealing with the causes of hunger will continue to take a back seat.
It is clear that changes need to be made to UK welfare in order for food poverty to be tackled in the UK. 2015 is our year to be taking some of the power back to be tackling this issue. With the General Election on the 7th of May, I will certainly be looking at each of the parties Welfare promises to ensure that the cost of housing and fuel are being considered so that we do not see a rise of another 800,000 people being forced to use Food Banks in the next 2 years.
Sarah Kirby – Action/2015 Youth Panelist
WHY THE ENVIRONMENT IS RELEVANT FOR YOU, THE UK, AND THE SDGS
#30days30voices is offering a chance for often unheard youth voices to speak out. I think the environment needs to be heard too. For far too long, the environment has taken the backbench in national policies. With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this September, 2015 is the year for the environment to take the spotlight and show the important role it plays in contributing to poverty reduction.
To begin with, the foundation of sustainability is formed of three main areas: economic, social and environmental. Issues concerning the environment itself have always been treated in isolation, where we mainly speak of aiming to protect ‘the environment’ through saving fragile habitats or preventing climate change. However, it has so much more to offer. The concept of the environment has changed over time from a narrow generalised idea to one that is more multidimensional. We are now recognising that environmental issues can be involved in all areas of life. It is essentially an effective tool which can be used to achieve the overarching objective of the SDGs: improving lives for the future.
The UK is a strong player in the formation of the SDGs, but still people are not aware of just how much sustainable management of natural resources can contribute to economic and social development too.
Here is what I would like to see from our future government in raising the profile of the environment and the SDG’s:
1) A stronger focus on how UK policies can reflect the close relationship between the eradication of poverty and the sustainable management of the environment The achievement of environmental sustainability should not be treated as a separate issue; instead national policies should always incorporate them.
2) The environment shouldn’t just be seen as a single goal within the SDGs The beauty of the environment is that it is multifunctional, multidisciplinary, and dynamic; it should not just be seen as a complex problem that needs to be solved. It should be incorporated into all of the goals, and not limited to a selected few.
3) Clear statements that monitor the progress in achieving the SDGs An effective monitoring framework needs to be put in place to know whether policies are working towards the international agenda. This should be accessible and easy to understand for all audiences. This will serve as an indicator for how we compare on a global scale, further motivating us to improve over time
4) More emphasis on harmonizing policies between different sectors Communication between different sectors is essential for successful policy implementation. Conflicting policies will only slow down any progress to be made in concern with achieving the SDGs.
5) The Government pledging to make UK citizens feel more engaged in achieving the environmental aspect of the SDG’s The SDG’s are applicable to ALL countries, both developed and developing, therefore everyone can be a part of their implementation. We are part of an international community and we can use that to learn from each other’s progress as we take steps to improve our world.
By Michaela Lo, graduate currently living and working in Taiwan and part of the action/2015 Youth Panel network.
WE’RE NOT LOOKING FOR MIRACLES, BUT ACTUAL POLITICS
When I attended Patchwork Foundation’s Youth Debate earlier this week I felt there was a general consensus that people just want politicians to be more frank– we’re not looking for miracles to quickly solve the country’s problem, but instead honest and realistic answers on how to approach this. Here are my three main takeaways from this experience:
“Coalitions are diverse, diversity is strength”
It’s no surprise to anyone that the next government will be a coalition, but as quoted by Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, “Coalitions are diverse, diversity is strength.” I’ve realised that we should start to focus on more the similarities between parties and their policies. The constant media circus of the traditional of slandering MP’s and fuelling ‘party politics’ as opposed to actual politics distracts us from understanding the real issues. The candidates agreed that coalitions could become the norm since other parties are coming up strong, so instead of trying to fight it, we as a society should learn to better use it in our favour.
“People need to realise that the men in ties don’t hold the power, WE do!”
The topic of whether young people are apathetic to politics sparked a lot feeling from both the audience and the panel. One young member said people aren’t apathetic, but the rigid system doesn’t allow us to pick who runs the country, so even if you have the best local MP, the person in No.10 doesn’t represent you. Although this gained a lot of nods and applause, the candidates responded with a different perspective. Chukka made a good point that actually people need to understand better how political decisions trickle down onto a local level. It’s the fault of the government and the public of not emphasising and realising this connection enough. One young person summed this idea up well, “People need to realise that the men in ties don’t hold the power, WE do!” (Annalise Mensah, 18, CitizensUK)
Give young people opportunities to discuss and engage!
Attending debates like this are great, if not for the chance to see politicians painfully grilled by the public, but the opportunity to meet other like-minded people. I felt privileged to network with ordinary young people who study and work, but who also want to play a significant part in shaping their own future by getting involved with various social, political and business opportunities. It’s vital that campaigns such as action/2015 or organisations like Patchwork exist as it gives young people the platform to really reach their full potential.
“I want to see more opportunities like Patchwork and CitizensUK for youth everywhere! I’d definitely get involved with the action/2015 campaign!” (Lateefat Babalola, 18, CitizensUK)
Even after the official debate had ended, a group of us stayed for an extra half hour evaluating the evening and starting our own heated discussion on the ‘role of young people’ today. Clearly we have a lot to say, but whether we’ll be heard over the course of the next five years is the real question.
By Takyiwa Danso, action/2015 UK Youth Panellist
ECONOMIC GROWTH & EMPLOYMENT: EVERY PERSON HAS A PART TO PLAY
In September a new framework aimed at fighting inequality, poverty and catastrophic climate change will be agreed, named the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed 8th SDG is economic growth & development; a target that is achievable but only if we’re willing to make the necessary changes. While it also may seem quite broad, the aim is summarised as ‘sustainable economic growth, full & productive employment with decent work for all.’ It also incorporates the previous Millennium Development Goal of ‘eradicating extreme poverty; this is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day.
The role of individuals in the UK must also not be overlooked; every person has a part to play in order to make the reduction of poverty realistic. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, rich countries and multinationals benefit from poverty in the form of cheap labour and cheap goods.
The impact of globalisation has made poverty an advantage for the larger companies, the lower the wages in any country; the cheaper it becomes to produce goods there. This in turn has allowed large multinationals to exploit workers in developing countries. For example, workers producing Nike goods earn roughly $1.60 per day, with a 70 hour working week; essentially a form of modern day slavery. Via legal loopholes, Nike avoids prosecution over the use of these workers not to mention child labour.
By carefully selecting the goods we demand, it’ll send a message to these firms that these types of practices are unacceptable & it’ll go further to meeting the 8th SDG than many other methods. By pressuring firms to provide a decent wage, millions will be dragged out of extreme poverty and it’ll provide ‘productive and decent work for all’ as the goal aims to do.
The other issue is the role of governments themselves in reforming tax laws; tax laws currently facilitate tax avoidance. Oxfam estimates it costs developing countries $114bn per year; this is tax that is vital for developing countries to invest in infrastructure & social spending. If this money continues to go missing, then the cycle of poverty will continue. As long as companies are allowed to shift profits away from where they were earned, the companies will continue to move money to avoid these taxes.
Finally comes the issue of third world debt, debt has crippled many developing countries who were given loans they would never be able to repay. These loans grow at a rate faster than these countries can pay off & because of these unfair debts millions face lower living standards. For example, Nigeria in 1986 borrowed $5bn; it has paid back $16bn yet still owes $28bn.
The Jubilee and Cancel the Debt campaigns have had successes in this regard yet once again these debts are on the rise. To really help reduce the levels of poverty, these loans must be cancelled or heavily reduced, the loans have already been repaid many times over; it’s just a case of whether the biggest economic powers are willing to reduce the unreasonable obligations they’ve placed upon the developing world. If that is the case, only then will we see real progress towards this SDG and countries will have the necessary finance to drag people out of poverty.
So arguably the goal in itself is realistic, but it depends entirely on whether we are willing to change our behaviour and if our governments are willing to make the necessary concessions at a cost to themselves. If not, the 21,000 children that die daily due to poverty will continue to grow and in 2030 our world leaders will sit around another table discussing how to end poverty.
By Junaid Shah – action/2015 Youth Panelist.
SO MANY BIG ISSUES – WE NEED TO ENGAGE!
I don’t know about you, but when I think about ending poverty, inequality and climate change – the biggest issues facing our generation and the future of people and planet – I feel more than a little overwhelmed. But when I look at the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals, I gain hope from their sheer thoroughness. The 17 drafted goals are interconnected, with an understanding of structural problems across the globe and they ambitiously aim to prompt action on issues which cannot be treated in isolation.
And then, when that sinks in, I feel completely overwhelmed again. Because when it comes to these Big Issues, it’s hard to shake that ‘oh-my-god-it’s-much-too-big-where-do-we-start-I’m-just-one-person-what-can-I-change?’ feeling. Where can one person even start – when it’s all so much bigger than us? It’s exhausting.
There’s a creeping sense of hopelessness in this reaction, and I’m not proud of it, though I do understand it. A similar feeling seems characteristic of current attitudes towards mainstream politics and our political system. Russell Brand famously abstains from voting and has spoken fervently on the matter – and much of the twitter sphere has been convinced. Crucially, his message wasn’t borne of ‘apathy’, but of ‘indifference and weariness and exhaustion’. The message was clear: why partake in a system when you feel that it won’t change anything?
In the run up to the General Election on May 7, it’s important that we don’t give in to this exhaustion, this hopelessness. Whatever Brand says, voting – participating – can change things. In 2010, only 51.8% of 18-24 year olds and 57.3% of 25-34 year olds turned out to vote. The figures have improved from 2001 and 2005, but they are still lower than a few decades ago, when the turn-out of 18-35 year olds was over 70%.
We need to actually try out our democratic right to vote: see what we can do when we use it properly. One of the most obvious ways to mold a political system so that it represents you is by engaging. It’s not just that people have died and fought and continue to die and fight for the right to a fair election – it’s also that it can make a difference: in 2010, over 46 million people were in the electorate – 15.9 million didn’t vote. Who knows what we’ll change? Indeed, even if you feel ‘my party won’t win’, the critical mass of votes influences politicians, and shapes the landscape of political priorities. Make sure you’re pushing the system in the direction you want it to go.
So, if you’re over 18, go on – register to vote by April 20. ‘Vote for Policies’ is a tool that allows you to see which political parties suit your principles – on the basis of policies, not personalities, grouped around 11 sections including ‘Environment’. And please, turn out to vote on May 7.
If you’re under 18 – read, get informed, ask those around you if they’re going to vote, how, why, what matters to them. If they say they won’t vote, talk about it. Look up who your local MP candidates are, and work out how to get in touch with them on their websites – you can contact them when they’re MPs, no matter your age, to tell them what they should be doing to represent your views and your priorities.
For people of all ages, there are other forms of politics and democracy – people can march, protest, we can network, we can use social media. We can and should take any platform we can to make our voices heard on matters we care about.
When I think about poverty, inequality and climate change – I feel overwhelmed. And then I look at the work of organisations, officials, NGOs, campaign groups, 20,000+ people on the Time to Act Climate Change March in London on 7 March, the global Action2015 coalition – I see the efforts of those who work tirelessly to construct hope and work towards a better world. Fatima Ibrahim of the UK Youth Climate Coalition spoke at the Time To Act march in London on 7 March 2015. Her words rang true:
‘Hope is a choice. Hope isn’t a feeling that you just feel: it’s a decision that we have to make and it’s a decision that we have to keep on making.’
Some people look at the political system and feel overwhelmed, underrepresented, detached. But here, too, we can take action into our own hands: we can seek and use alternative methods of politics, but we should also use the platform of voting and engaging with MPs, since it’s easy and ready-made. Abstaining is giving into hopelessness, instead of the constructiveness of hope. We have to engage, not turn away.
By Alex Duffy – action/2015 Youth Panelist and member of Progressio Empower.
END POVERTY IN ALL ITS FORMS EVERYWHERE
When the word poverty comes up in discussions here in the UK I sometimes get the feeling that people don’t associate it with this part of the world. It’s often discussed like it’s a historical relic from less civilised times or an exotic animal found only in distant lands. But the truth is that poverty isn’t something that is only found abroad or in history books or in TV ads for charities. It’s here, now, and it’s all around us.
Poverty doesn’t just mean extreme poverty, the kind we imagine when we think of the world’s least developed countries, but rather poverty means the struggle to live from day to day, the struggle to put food on the table, to keep your home, the struggle that affects 13 million people in the UK today! Think about what that means: 1 in every 5 people that you pass tomorrow lives below the poverty line and many don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
And that’s why the Sustainable Development Goals are so important and why we can’t forget about them during the general election – they affect us all. Yet the word poverty really isn’t on the lips of our politicians. I’ve barely heard it mentioned but what I have heard mentioned is GDP. We don’t talk about poverty but we’re obsessed with economic growth because we’re fed the narrative that one solves the other but this simply isn’t true.
We’re told that increasing the country’s income is the way to combat poverty and rising GDP and job creation figures have been used to tell us that everything is OK and that things are improving. But, last year, when GDP rose by 2.6%, the number of people using UK food banks almost tripled to 1 million! We’re told that 1,000 new jobs are being created a day but with consistent inflation before 2015 making costs of living much higher without any significant rise in pay, not even employment is a guaranteed route out of poverty anymore.
Income growth can be a good thing but when combined with rising inequality it doesn’t mean people’s lives are improving and it certainly doesn’t mean poverty is being tackled, in fact the UK economy has doubled in size since the early 1980s and yet the number of those suffering below-minimum living standards has almost doubled alongside it.
The truth is you can’t tackle poverty without tackling inequality because poverty is relative to wealth within a society – you can be poor in London at an income level that wouldn’t make you poor in Bangladesh because more wealth in a society makes prices higher and raises the minimum acceptable standards of living. So by definition, if certain sectors of society are becoming disproportionately wealthy then it is harder for those left behind to live comfortable lives.
SDG1 says we need to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. In order to this:
We must reject the story that poverty will be solved by economic growth alone.
We must reject the idea that inequality is OK as long as overall incomes are increasing.
We must demand that our MPs commit to ending poverty at home and abroad.
By Amro Hussain, action/2015 Youth Panelist and member of Progressio Empower
THE NATIONAL YOUTH DEBATE – WHAT DO YOUNG PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THESE DAYS?
Talking about ‘young people’ as an entity or a group is something that I find misleading, and I struggle to feel genuine when using the phrase. It implies that an issue that is important to one young person is important to them all; this will never be true of any demographic on a given topic. Nevertheless, the UpRising national youth debate that I attended at Queen Mary’s University showed me that although we are a diverse array of people, we are often united in the issues that rile us up and ignite political passion.
The 11 different UpRising debates held across the UK, did not feature the same candidates and MPs, or even the same questions, but brought together hundreds of young people between the ages of 16-24 to challenge political leaders on issues that are important to our generation. The London debate brought together candidates and MPs from a range of political parties.
The most engaging moments from the panel were when candidates stepped away from their prescribed answerers.
What really struck me about the whole evening were the issues that garnered the biggest response from the 16-24 year olds in the audience. Especially the questions asked once the floor had been opened.
Questions were thrown at the panel concerning the rise of anti-Semitism, youth unemployment, economic disparity in the UK and the selling of arms to human rights abusing countries. I was overwhelmed by the focus on inequality throughout UK society. These were the issues that the young people in London cared most about – and they did not let the politicians talk their way out of answering their questions. Any hint of an off-topic tangent prompted rumbles of disapproval that swept across the audience.
The most significant moment of the evening, for me, came when a deaf member of the audience stood and directed a question to the panel about barriers for disabled people in society. There was silence as the question was signed and translated for hearing members of the audience and, when he finished, the auditorium gave its biggest and most enthusiastic applause of the night. I don’t like to generalise, but what I took from this is that these ‘young people’ care – not only about issues that affect them directly, but about inequality on many levels.
Politics is personal: it’s about individuals, the experiences we face on a day to day basis and the empathy we feel for each other. We won’t vote for the ‘party line’ or for faceless career politicians arguing in soundbites; we will vote to combat inequality and give hope for the future back to the younger generation, as those before us have failed to do.
By Stephanie Scott – action/2015 youth panelist.
Its only 30 days until the UK General Election! In the final run up before Britain votes, we will be giving a platform to young voices to talk about what the election means to them and the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of the election.
If you are a young person and you have something to say about poverty, inequality or climate change in the context of the general election, you can be one of the 30 voices contribute a blog/ vlog too! Simply get in touch by emailing Ronagh and look out for #30days30voices on twitter!
Ronagh is part of a group of young advocates who have come together as the action/2015 youth panel during this crucial year for international development. Read more about why they think it is important that youth voices have a platform, especially this month:
“Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow; they are leading today by making, building and transforming the world at the local, national, regional and global levels. Participation and decision-making are key to realising our contributions within the institutions, processes and structures set up to determine the future. This is why it’s important to speak up and speak out on issues that matter, whether it’s poverty, inequality, political participation or justice! It matters. You matter!”
“Education, youth unemployment, unaffordable housing, inequality…the list could go on…these are all the issues that young people think about today. We’ve been promised changes to them all, better opportunities and more accessible resources, but what do YOU really think about it? Politics can often put people off, but we want to show that politics can be personal, and we believe young people should have the platform to share how political decisions will affect them.
Simply the fact that you are reading this blog already shows your interest in these matters, so why not go one step further and put your own views out there? On May the 7th all eyes will be on the people at the top – well why not let all eyes be on us before then? Young people have the potential, the capacity and the imagination to make huge differences in the world, so join us as we take a stand to let our voices be heard!”
“There’s a great quote from a recent Bjork interview about being a young woman in your 20s. ‘You’re not just imagining things. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.’ This sentiment is not only true in terms of gender, race, sexuality and so on, but it also resonates with the attitude of politicians towards the younger generation. As a group, young people are ignored by politicians and then, their ignorance of our opinions is constructed and construed as a product of our own apathy.
In the 30 days running up to the election it will be amazing to read, hear and see the opinions of a diverse group of young people on issues that we believe matter. If you would like to write, record or otherwise present your views on any issue, get in touch. It could be education, tuition fees, the environment, free speech; anything at all! We are not apathetic – and it’s time to change the false political narrative that suggests we are.”
“I am really excited to hear from 30 young people from across the UK on why they care about poverty, inequality and climate change and why politicians should too. So many young people are frustrated with politics because it doesn’t reflect our values and we don’t see politicians representing us. That needs to change and this is an opportunity for young people to show that we have a lot to say on some very important issues when it comes to the general election. We are setting examples of the changes that need to be made across the world every day. If politicians want to get the youth vote then they need to listen up.”
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.