Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Future is in Our Pockets

Photo from the Guardian

So, today a lot of public sector workers went on strike, and quite a few didn't. Public sector workers are doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, teachers, library assistants, dustmen, civil servants, dinner ladies, school caretakers, social workers etc.  They are the people that provide so many services that we rely on. If we want reliable public servants they need to be paid a reasonable wage. After all, you get what you pay for.

Some of those public sector workers don't earn enough to be able to buy a house, some are quite comfortably off and others, the bosses, earn very high sums indeed. This is a reflection of the private sector. Some private sector workers are not paid enough to live on, some are OK and others earn more than I would know how to spend.

This is a wider reflection of our society in general, which is not a fair society, in fact the inequalities are growing more than in most developed countries.  Some people are paid much more than they are worth and some people's work is not given it's proper value.  I'm not suggesting that we should all be paid the same, but we need to start to realise as a society that it is not good for anyone when some people get paid obscene amounts while others aren't even given a living wage.

Photo from the Telegraph
The unfairness continues when we retire, and the main reason for the strike was that the government is asking public sector workers to pay more towards their pension, which for many earning around the national average means about £100 a month extra.  At the same time as paying more towards their pension it seems the pensions will be smaller and people will have to work longer before they are entitled to them.

It does not seem that the extra money these people will pay for their pensions will go into a pension fund to secure the future of their pensions, but directly into government coffers, which could make it seem like a tax on people who work as public servants, historically at least, at a lower wage than they could expect in the private sector because helping others was more important to them than earning high sums.

Once, it seemed like a good idea for government to be an example of best practice when it came to valuing their workers, ensuring them a decent pension and treating them fairly.  Instead of leading the way, this government seems to be trying to make it easier for businesses to treat their employees unfairly and without respect.

We are in a recession, it is true, but the language used about public sector workers has at times made them sound like they are sponging off 'hard-working tax-payers' rather than being 'hard-working tax-payers' themselves in most cases, many of who are willing to go the extra mile because they care about their patients, pupils or the others they serve in the course of a day's work.

Yes, I do work in the public sector myself, but only part-time, and I didn't work while my children were young, so I can't expect much of a work pension.  I work because I enjoy helping people and because it's nice to have some money I can call my own.


The other side of all this is how we spend our money.  Do we try to buy as much as possible with our hard-earned cash, or do we try to balance our needs with the amount of good we can do with that cash?  Do we try to support the local economy, organic farmers or buy Fairtrade?  Do we think about the impact our purchases have on the environment and on those who helped to produce what we buy?  Do we think carefully about the impact our purchases have on us and our loved ones?

Are we more concerned with our entitlement than with others' needs?  If we have enough, can we give something to help those less well off than ourselves?

Photo from BBC
 I heard Sir Alan Sugar tried to return his Winter fuel allowance because he does not need it.  It seems this was not possible, but he and anyone else wealthy enough not to worry about paying their heating bills could give the money to Age UK or Shelter or similar charities.

We may have a government which doesn't seem to care about struggling individuals, fairness or the environment, but we can use each pound in our pocket to vote for a better world.  Money has a voice of its own, which seems to be the only one the Tories understand, indeed it is the voice governments of all persuasions seem to listen to most.  It is no use saying we want a fairer society and a more sustainable way of doing things if we don't act and spend our money in a way that bears that out.  Governments are led by what we do, not what we say, as are businesses: if we buy it, they will continue to make it.  Let us use the money we have, wisely, it is more powerful than we may realise.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent Preparations

Today is the first day of Advent, which is the beginning of the Church year and traditionally a time of preparation for Christmas.

Originally I think it was about spiritual preparation, not unlike Lent.  It was a time of prayer and fasting, reflecting on the state of one's morals, doing penance and resolving to do better.

More recently it had become a time for many housewives to clean their houses; a Winter clean rather than a Spring clean. Now many people consider that it is a time to write cards, buy presents and plan the Christmas feasting.

I like to write cards, often accompanied by a letter, to keep in touch with people and wish them well for the coming year.  Older people and people living on their own particularly seem to appreciate this.  I'm thinking I might make a few of my own cards this year and the rest I have bought from charities.

I shall also buy some presents and food otherwise my family will be disappointed, but I hope I shall have some time to reflect, now the evenings are drawing in. However with an elderly relative in hospital who needs visiting and a regular visit to my elderly parents planned I might not have all that much time to do so this week.

If you want to support charities when you buy your Christmas cards either order them direct from the charity or look out for Cards for Good Causes they may well have a shop near you, often in a church or an empty shop in or near your high street.  According to this article, this is the way to make sure the charity benefits the most.  If they are printed on recycled card all the better.

While we write our cards we may resolve to keep in touch more with certain individuals next year, or give regularly to a particular charity.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Developing an Attitude of Peace

"If we ourselves remain angry and then sing world peace, it has little meaning. First our individual self must learn peace. This we can practise. Then we can teach the rest of the world" - His Holiness the Dalai Lama

"True peace is always possible, yet it requires strength and practice, particularly in times of great difficulty. To some peace and non-violence are synonymous with passivity and weakness. In truth, practising peace and non-violence is far from passive. To practise peace, to make peace alive in us, is to actively cultivate understanding, love and compassion, even in the face of misperception and conflict. Practising peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.

All of us can practise non-violence.  We begin by recognising that, in our depths of consciousness, we have both the seeds of compassion and the seeds of violence.  We become aware that our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of mindfulness and also seeds of ignorance, fear and hatred.  We realise that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or compassion, depending on the strength of these seeds within us.

When the seeds of anger, violence and fear are watered in us several times a day they will grow stronger.  Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and we make those around us suffer.  Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion and understanding in us every day, those sees will become stronger and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker."   - Thich Nhat Hanh, Creating True Peace

Friday, 11 November 2011


Remembering the war dead of the last 100 years; soldiers and civilians.

So many families torn apart, such a waste of human potential.

Hoping we'll find a better way of settling our differences the 21st century.

“'Blessed are the peacemakers.”