Monthly Archives: January 2020

HS2 and binary politics … could we do it better?

At the current estimated cost of £100billion, we could pave the way from London to Manchester with £10 notes end to end, and each £10 note would have another 3,999 underneath every top one. (335km and 132mm for those that like the maths).

£40,000 in piles of £10 pound notes end to end for over 200 miles. The Great Train Robbery wasn’t just in the 1960s.

And that is before we examine in any detail the environmental impact, expecially on biodiversity (our wildlife).

But HS2 has become a binary issue – people must be either wholly in favour or wholly against.

The HS2 design is already an old technology, using a continuous solid concrete ‘floor’ underneath the track. Making concrete is awful for CO2 emissions. But yes we do need additional rail capacity in and around the north of England, north-south and east-west.

Is there a more nuanced view possible on HS2 – with smarter, modern engineering which isn’t all about bulldozers and concrete – and looking at rail solutions as coming from networks rather than single lines?

But I fear at the moment politically, that anyone who tries for a non-binary position will be eaten alive as a traitor by both sides.

Reducing carbon, block by block

Buildings use a high percentage of global energy, especially in developed countries. Every unit of energy that can be saved can be one less unit of energy from fossil fuels.

So how can developed countries make their buildings more energy efficient?

One way is the road of international agreements which are then implemented through national regulations. But we know this road is closed at the moment.

Another way is bottom up, block by block, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, community by community.

Imagine if every building for visitors had its energy rating on the door. Just like we do with fridges and vacuum cleaners, from A+ down to G. A sheet of paper in the window is something everyone can do.

The group of buildings for visitors should include blocks of apartments for rent as well as shops, schools, colleges, places of worship, community centres, and official buildings.

The social pressures across villages, towns, cities and countries to increase the energy efficiency of our buildings would be catalysed, making the world a better place because it could reduce global carbon emissions starting from now.

It might even help unblock the road to international agreements on climate breakdown.

Every street can help the world.

Social Care 2025

It seems likely that social care in Britain will drift from crisis to crisis for the next five years. What might be done to improve this?

British politics is still trying to recalibrate after the December election results. The Labour party is occupied with choosing a new leader, and in that process, choosing some new strategies and policies. The Conservative party are in government and have expelled many former centrist members from parliament. The snake oil of Brexit has been buried for the moment, but it will resurface around July when reality kicks in again.

So, possibly the biggest policy challenge for the government aside from Brexit is social care, and unlike Brexit it cannot be avoided as the pressures within the NHS continue to tear health and social care apart. The policy position of the government on social care is that it wants a cross-party policy consensus, but where the different parties have widely different positions. In short, the conservatives want a market solution while labour wants a public service. So a consensus isn’t possible on the structure, even before we consider how to pay for the structure.

Currently the toxic element is how to fund social care. Public sector spending by councils and in community care has fallen by an estimated 21% in the last ten years. Theresa May tried to suggest a means-tested approach during the 2017 election campaign and it blew up in her hands. The normally supportive right-wing press jumped on the “death tax” slogan because owner-occupiers would have to pay off their social care debt from their estate after they had died, usually by selling the former home.

So, barring a big change in policy by one of the main parties, social care policy looks likely to languish until 2025 or longer. What can we do about that?

Looking at some of the early pioneers in the 1960s, 70s and 80s in England, some disabled people did manage to create their own social care solution and leave hospital wards and charity homes to live in the community in flats and houses. Examples include Pamela La Fane, Ken Davis and Maggie Hines (Davis), John Evans, Margaret Wymer, June Maeltzer, and no doubt others.

Each solution was person-centred and often a creative mix of funding and mutualism. Housing association funding was sometimes stretched to its limits, as were local authority support and resources. More than once the lawyers had to be called in to confirm a solution was lawful.

Many in the Labour party are calling for more local activism as a strategy to rebuilding support. The usually examples of local activism tend to include things like running a food bank, an advice centre, organising litter picking days, writing leaflets and newsletters and very-local social media groups, meals and bingo sessions for pensioners.

A question for the moment is how might such local activism support new social care solutions? And not just more bingo.