30 September 2005

Wednesday at the fringe.

12.45pm IPPR/Channel 4. Oh. Behave! Changing behaviour for a sustainable future. Chair Baroness Young. Speakers, Elliot Morley MP (Environment minister), Maria Adebowale (Capacity Global), Robin Hickman (Author)

Not a lot I can actually remember about this except a question from the floor from an environmental looking type guy who asked about why the government had reduced funding for solar panel installation. The answer from Elliot Morley seemed to be that it was as yet far too uneconomic and unattractive for homeowners and therefore more cost effective to fund other schemes. The guy countered that Germany had managed to fund it and that take up there was much more comprehensive as a result. Elliot then seemed to contradict what he said by saying that the government would extend funding and as it became more popular the costs would fall. There seemed to be a ditto argument about mini-windmills.

The most interesting contribution came from Robin Hickman (I think this is his correct forename-apologies if it isn't) who replaced the advertised Oliver James. He described how he had had an environmental audit of his life. Living in London he found little difficulty in dispensing with his car and once getting used to the smell no problem with reusable nappies. He talked at length about his composting objectives and his desire for reusable energy in his home from wind powered generators. He stated again and again that it was cost that had stopped him. He said the biggest difficulties he had had were in trying to avoid the lure of cheap flights which made the environmental alternative not only much more cumbersome and inconvenient but more expensive as well. He said his wife still moaned about his insistence on taking the train to an Italian holiday they had had last year.

He then described how he had followed his rubbish after getting a bemused council's approval. This he said had shocked him when he realised how via barges down the thames his rubbish all ended up in a massive Essex landfill. He said every school child in the country should have to visit one, as it is a wonderful educational experience. This had spurred him on to increase his recycling of rubbish so that from filling the wheelie bin every week, it now took over a month to do so. He said this had also been achieved by having fresh fruit and veg delivered from a local farm thus avoiding all the packaging of supermarkets and reducing his 'food miles'.

5.45pm Social Justice. Chair Polly Toynbee, Speakers, Patricia Hewitt MP, Ed Milliband MP, Prof David Miller (Oxford), Nick Pearce (IPPR).

Polly Toynbee describes a conversation she had with a Lord. She asked him what he thought the median wage was in this country. The median wage (around £20,000 p.a.)is the midpoint where there are an equal number of people who earn above it as below. She said the Lord replied 'oh, I expect it is awfully low figure, what about 44,000 a year?'. This got the biggest laugh. Polly said this demonstrates how the top earners don't realise how high up the income ladder they really are. Ask someone on £40,000 a year where they think they are on the income scale and they reply about midway, whereas in truth they are in the top 5% of earners.

Polly said that as an experiment a group she works with on poverty got together some of the only voters that matter under this 'monstrous' electoral system we have. i.e. voters from marginal seats who are 'floating' between the parties. These are the middle income, middle England voters. (there are only about 250,000 across about 70 marginal seats that the parties have to concentrate on to win elections).

At first when asked about child poverty in Britain, there was almost uninimity from the room saying there was no child poverty in Britain. Then when confronted with a few facts like the number of children who didnt receive birthday presents and never had holidays or went more than a few miles from their homes, they changed attitudes. People then said, oh but this will always be the case, this poverty cannot be got rid of. So from an initial position of saying there wasn't any poverty they had moved to a position of 'poverty could never be gotten rid of'. Then the audience were shown ways in which poverty could be eradicated by telling them of the situation in Sweden.

By the end of the 2 hours the audience had voted that they were willing to give an extra £88 a year in tax to reduce poverty, this is quite a substantial increase in income tax. Maybe at the voting booths, these people would change their mind, but it demonstrated how little these voters had been told about poverty and that they could be persuaded that something should be done about it. These people when asked had not heard of the government's targets on eradicating child poverty, did not know about how child poverty had been reduced by a quarter since 1997, they had never heard of Surestart. It is about time this government started to highlight these things instead of constantly campaigning with the attitude that voters only respond to 'a whats in it for me' agenda.

There seemed to be general agreement from the rest of the panel on these points. Ed Milliband seemed particularly impressive, Patricia Hewitt was well Patricia Hewiit, so safe in her answers it hurt, but generally she followed the line something would be done on this.

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