CSM at labour conference - part two
WAKE UP TO CLIMATE CHANGE PRAYER BREAKFAST
Speakers: Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP; Mrs. Helen Goodman MP; CAFOD; Tearfund; CSM
30 people gathered for breakfast on the first day of Conference to wake up to climate change.
Helen Goodman MP, who represents Bishop Auckland and is parliamentary under-secretary for work and pensions, started off the discussion with a plea that climate change is a justice issue, its not just about polar bears but mainly about poor people in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Climate change will lead to devastation in poor countries like Bangladesh, conflict and strife and competition for resources. We need to bring the spiritual dimension and how even a non-Christian friend of hers felt that only the church could get through to people. Our approach is not just an instrumental one but reflecting on God as creator of the world, its intrinsic values because of that.
David Lammy MP, who represents Tottenham and is minister for higher education, said that he represents the most diverse constituency not just in Britain but in Europe, with 300 different languages spoken!
He said for most of the last decade climate change was seen as a middle-class issue, but in the last few years more of his constituents were realising the importance, particularly as the remittances they send home were often being needed to help family members who were on the front line cope with the devastation already being caused by climate change
He said the challenge was to make climate change a mainstream issue, just as debt and Make Poverty History had become largely through the efforts of people of faith. He reflected on the different traditions in the history of the Labour Party, such as the union tradition, the rights tradition, the ethical tradition comes from organisations like CSM and this needs to be heard in the labour movement particularly at this time as we experience the worst downturn since the 1930s.
He reflected on the poverty he had seen in Haiti and in Delhi and the need for Christians to fight and fight hard with both collective and individual action.
Paul Cook, the advocacy and media director at Tear Fund, reflected on a visit to north east Brazil and the environmental damage affecting the life of Joao, a 21-year old father of three, struggling with failing crops, streams drying up as the environment became more andmore difficult. This was a result of Paul’s/our lifestyle.
The challenge for the forthcoming Copenhagen summit was to reach a deal that works for the poorest such as Joao. We know that the science says that we have to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade and that means that by 2015 global emissions have to be dropping and for developed countries we will have to cut by 40% by 2020. The vital thing was to create the political will to achieve this.
He called for three things Christians should do: pray, support communities struggling with the effects of climate change and keep up campaigning pressure such as the 5 December human encircling of UK parliament – The Wave.
CAFOD’s representative, Neil, was encouraged that climate change was being raised from Glastonbury Festival to the Pope. Creation is a gift from God, we know the science now, but what we need is to change the economic model and realise that markets have failed to reach the poor. He stressed the importance of the 5 December event around Parliament.
In the debate that followed, Alun Michael MP reflected on how the churches could be as effective on climate change as they had been on Make Poverty History and their importance in encouraging and enabling government to go faster and further than it might have done otherwise.
Several people reflected on why climate change might be a more difficult issue to get the churches involved than Make Poverty History, because climate change has a more direct effect on our personal lifestyles in terms of car use, air travel etc and some reflected on the sense of hopelessness people felt about climate change.
A spirited debate followed on about aviation, even though this represents only about 2 % of current global emissions, but it obviously raised strong emotions.
HAVEN OR HELL – TAX DODGING AND POVERTY
Speakers: Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP; Rt. Hon. John McFall MP; Robert ...(attorney); Alex Cobham, Christian Aid
74 people filled in the pews of St. Paul’s Church in Brighton in order to learn more about the issue of Tax Havens. CSM Volunteer, Edward Rennie relates what he’s learned.
In the beautiful Anglo-Catholic church of St Paul’s (a real haven of tranquillity for anyone in Brighton) Andy introduces our speakers mentioning that when asked whether he had any hobbies beyond tax Richard Hay responded ‘no just tax’. Cue laughter! Andy points out that the term Tax Haven is interesting and thought provoking in itself as Haven means a provision of shelter or refuge, and given that we think of taxation as a social good why would we need a haven from it?
John McFall MP Chair of the Treasury Select Committee opens the comments. He mentions Banking wills and how the Banks attitude does not seemed to have changed given they don’t want to make those wills as this means recognising the possibility that they could fall. They have failed to even recognise the serious social economic and ethical questions that have come to prominence from the crisis. McFall talks about the recent Encycle by Pope Benedict Caritas in Veritate which calls for society to be attuned to the need for the Common Good. I feel this is especially pertinent for us at the CSM given the title of our magazine!
John McFall continues: there is an urgent need for essential reform of our international financial institutions in order to sort out the imbalances in the global economy. As part of this the UN should have a role. We need diversity in the financial services, given the tendency towards big institutions; we need to see the development of smaller institutions. We should surely consider the re-mutualisation of Northern Rock. Rebuilding trust in financial services we need to remind the banks that the Oxford English Dictionary defines a bank as: “an organization offering financial services, especially the safekeeping of customers’ money”! What would be their response upon hearing that definition? Trade Unions have been weakened but we need a fair deal in a globalised market. We must keep to the Department for International Development’s target of 0.7% of GDP going to the developing world. Climate change is a particular challenge because it is an inter-generational responsibility.
When John McFall was a young man and needed to borrow £850 for a loan he was considered too much of a risk, where has this more cautious approach gone? The structure has changed risk is sliced and diced, where has this risk been put? We must have simplicity and transparency. The ethical status of tax havens has to be addressed.
It is notable that Spain, for example, refused to co-operate with off shore tax havens and has as a result suffered less in the current economic crisis. Unilateral action is insufficient however, co-ordinated action is essential; again what is needed is a culture change which is extremely difficult to bring about. Markets are not self correcting. Adam Smith in fact referred to the visible hand of the market. A well regulated system will ultimately be of long term benefit over a poorly regulated or unregulated system. Alex finishes by recommending a Banking Commission to serve the economy with the aim of bringing fairness and justice.
Andy Flanagan introduces our next speaker saying he feels that not unlike Daniel who enters a den of lions he feels he has welcomed Richard Hay into a den of Christians!
Richard agrees that what we want is a more equal sharing of prosperity. But what are the means to make that happen? He compares the financial meltdown to a computer crash. Richard then introduces us to the concept of Tax Neutral Platforms, my initial response by this term is not to realise that he is fact talking about Tax Havens! He makes these ‘platforms’ sound so agreeable that it makes you think; why anyone would disagree with them? Richard says that tax neutral platforms have contributed to the Asian economies lifting 1 Billion out of poverty. Asian corporations do not engage in tax avoidance as the tax rate is 18%, about right! Singapore is rated as the 4th largest foreign exchange trading centre behind New York and London. In 1997 we worried that China would respond with hostility to Hong Kong’s financial trading status, but it turned out that the Chinese had liked what the Brits had done and their response was to replicate it in Shanghai.
In April of this year the Chinese in fact nearly derailed the G20 consensus on tax havens, thankfully a compromise was reached between President Sarkozy and President Hu Jintao, brokered by Obama. Christian Aid’s policy that only trade can bring about the sustainable lifting of people and countries out of poverty means that we should not be opposed to structures that allow for the pooling of funds for efficient collective investment which allow for the appropriate paying of tax at both the beginning and end of the process. In both Hong Kong and Singapore there is low corruption. The liquidity they provide is lowering the cost of capital, facilitating the movement of capital to better performing businesses. This facilitates a stable middle class who’s children are more likely to return to their country after University. When we look at these small former crown jurisdictions, these viable and fiscally independent economies we should then consider Tax Havens and before attacking them see what they have done for Asia.
Alex Cobham Policy Manager at Christian Aid takes up the baton, opening his comments by pointing out that tax is essential for democracy and good governance an indispensable part of our system of rights and responsibilities, a key aspect of the relationship between citizen and state. Good governance is undermined by increasing inequality; we therefore need to support development in former tax havens. When it comes to tax neutral platforms we can consider an unnamed Sub-Saharan African nation which exports to Switzerland, which if it could market its products at the price sold them on at their economy would be transformed. We can consider the secrecy that Tax Havens provide allowing for investment in countries with poor human rights records and widespread drug trafficking. Countries like Libya, Guinea, Syria and Turkmenistan where political opponents are boiled alive! Such regimes are supported through use of their tax haven status. Alex says he agrees with Richard that what is required is a level playing field. Balance and transparency are also required. What is hoped for is in the aftermath of this crisis is a multi-lateral deal covering all jurisdictions with minimum requirements of transparency at the G20 meeting in November at St Andrews.
Stephen Timms the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and East Ham MP opens his remarks by welcoming the economic focus of the CSM’s fringe meetings and to pay tribute to the work of Christian Aid and in particular their report on Tax and Theology. Tax avoidance is symptomatic of broken relationships. Kevin Rudd and Gordon Brown had discussed restoring trust in the economy at an event entitled ‘My word is my bond’. What we have instead of openness and transparency is opaqueness, excessive risk taking and hiding from the Tax man. What we are not concerned about is tax evasion not the paying of lower taxes. It is estimated that the loss to the exchequer through tax evasion is greater than the entire International Aid budget.
The OECD had required countries to agree 12 tax agreements in order to avoid being on the tax haven ‘grey list’. The Swiss had signed their 12th agreement last week. Our aim is to ensure that poorer countries get the benefit of trade, it is not reasonable to only have individual bi-lateral agreements, what is required is multi-lateral agreements. What would be ideal would be automatic exchange of information rather than on request but this would be expensive in terms of IT but remains what we can aim for.
HOPE IN THE CRUNCH: YOUNG PEOPLE AND THE FUTURE OF THE ECONOMY
Speakers: Sharon Hodgson MP; Dawn Butler, MP; Youthwork Magazine; YMCA England; Premier Radio.
35 people gathered to seriously discuss the challenges British youth are currently facing in light of this economic crisis, what the Government is doing about it and what still needs to be done.
CSM Volunteer, Madeleine Jones shares her experience.
Andy introduced the event tonight informing us of the launch of Young CSM that year and sharing the reason he had gotten involved with CSM initially, which was due to his involvement and love of working with young people.
Lindsay Martin spoke from the YMCA, the biggest housing providers for young people. Many young people who are also socially excluded come and stay at the YMCA, many of whom are being affected by the recent down turn in the economy. These young people are aware of apprenticeships and other services; they are really clued up, but are unable to access these opportunities in many cases.
Lindsay insists that more is needed to be done to, for example, articles to be at the forefront of magazines and newspapers. Solutions need to be long term solutions. She throws up the urgent question to the panel and audience, “What can we continue to do?”
Dawn Butler MP says that young people and the recession fill’s her with a sense of dread. She explains that we do not want another lost generation and before 1997 and the Labour party came into power the young people were forgotten. Initiatives that Labour bought in, she says, we cannot afford to lose. She feels that Gordon Brown has a strong sense of equality of fairness and a strong moral compass.
Sure Start is an organisation that was set up to provide free nursery care which meant building for the future and giving all children a fair start. The Education Maintenance Allowance is available for young people whose parent’s earnings are below a certain threshold. Labour wants an opportunity for all young people to be able to receive a good education. Also she sees that there is a need to ensure there are enough apprenticeships and more is needed to be done to inform young people of these opportunities.
Dawn wanted to meet the young people in Brent and to give them the opportunity to have a say in what goes on in their borough, to decide what money is spent on, to receive more power to do what they wanted and to build a future through young people.
The government will be putting 90 million aside for disabled children and carers, so they can have a break. Everyone must get a share of funding for a fair start and Dawn says we cannot afford to have cuts in these areas.
She says that the role that faith plays in our society is important to Gordon Brown. That a new funding stream called Faith by Faith, Side by Side is part of the opportunity that Gordon is trying to create.
Martin Saunders from Youthwork Magazine explains he is passionate about the church and young people and he believes that faith is the transformative mechanism which helps young people to reach their potential. But there is a quest for funding! Faith groups have a great contribution to youth work and yet lots of people in youth work have lost their jobs. The recent crisis in employment is predicted to have an effect on the one million 16-24 year olds classed as NEET. Martin poses an important question, “Will funding dry up when we mention faith?”
There seems to be a disposable culture emerging. Young people who are unable to get a job, cannot afford education or secure other opportunities are left in a prison of aspiration. Young people often seem to have settled into a potentially false sense of security and perhaps not taking the recession as seriously as they should and David asks if we are doing enough to ensure that they do. A questionnaire was handed out to young people asking the question, “How is the recession affecting you?” Overwhelming, young people did not think the recession would affect them!
Sharon Hodgson, MP, started by saying how pleased she was to see a few young people at the meeting. She said it was good to talk to the young people themselves.
Sharon remembered the last recession and people had no light at the end of the tunnel, whilst Maggie said unemployment was a price worth paying. She was very pleased when Gordon Brown wanted to tackle irresponsible risk taking whilst Labour is also setting out to support those in real need i.e. those losing their homes, businesses etc. Of course the reality is still painful. The impact on the young person is being talked about and is at the top of the government agenda as it is realised that what effects this generation will be passed down to the next generation. This was seen after the last recession.
Where and how cuts are made is the choice, the cuts will not be with Sure Start or getting young people in employment. 150,000 jobs, money and incentives, extra training is being made available and the provision of opportunities including work experience and apprenticeships.
Sharon explained that she had a girl doing work experience with her constituency and this was very helpful in helping her get to ahead in the world of politics.
Sharon says that the future belongs to those who inspire hope into the next generation.
Lindsay says that young people need to be able to say what affects them and also wonders if the kinds of services they receive can be decided in part by themselves and not entirely by the government. Through the work she does she has seen that young people are looking for a way to positively engage in society and they are unable to do this.
There are issues around formal education. What do we do about the other 800,000 young people? Issues around young women who demonstrate an inability to maintain their job? Benefits which are not flexible enough –Employment Maintenance Allowance i.e. if a young person does manage to secure a good opportunity through, for example the Princes Trust, they are unable to both receive the EMA and also get a day off. Lindsay asks how can we make life easier for young people to maneuver through?
Sharon says that 150,000 new jobs are being created, but yes, what about the other 800,000? They will also be helped. Employers will get incentives for people to get back into work after a year. People will be given a choice which is demonstrated through the increase of the mandatory age of staying in education until 18. EMA’s are also a very important part in this and they need to be broadened and the eligibility looked at with the maximum of £30 per week not being means tested.
Harriet Harman has made gender and the economy her mission. There is no better time than now for achieving equality. There will be new laws set in this area.
A young man in the audience asked the question, "
Sharon talks about children not wanting to become MPs, but actually the situation is that young people are not getting involved in politics. Why then do young people have to pay full price to come to conference? Is this helping young people to become more involved?"
Another audience participant asks: "Will the Labour debt be passed on to our children’s generation?"
Finally the question is posed, "There are 70 different funding streams and many projects receive short-term funding. Having worked with these projects, I have found that funding streams are too complex and there needs to be long-term funding for projects. Is there something that can be done to simplify the funding streams and continue these projects on a long-term basis?
Sharon Hodgson replied that she was aware that there was a struggle for young people to engage with politics. Prices for membership did need to be looked at.
In answer to the question: "Is the debt going to be passed on?”, yes, the debt will be passed on. But also debt can be managed, debt is not unmanageable. We now own various banks including TSB and RBS and when shares are sold we can pay off a large amount of the outstanding debt.
In answer to the question on funding streams she stated that there are lots of funding streams and they must be made easier. She explained the reason for short-term funding was the government needed to see which schemes worked well and which did not.
Martin Saunders comes back and says, “Not enough is being done”. The ability to engage in the workplace, social skills, employability and networking are subjects which need to be taught in Citizenships lessons and many churches can help with this. He asks the questions, how can the government start looking at these soft skills rather than output? Does an ageing workforce impact young people and employment? When is the golden age where young people get involved in politics going to happen?
Lindsay adds that the government tick boxes. But when you are working with a young person it does not feel as flexible as when you are on the other side as an MP i.e. when you see that a young person can only get a retail job when they want to do something else. She says that citizenship education won’t be realised for another 10 years. She also noted that experiential learning was important and young people need to be walked through this.
Sharon said that soft skills are being dealt with. She felt that we are becoming too interested in brands and the consumer culture that young people were so drawn to needed to be dealt with as it had contributed to the breakdown of youth culture.
Sharon shared that she had just completed two weeks with the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and during this time she had spent time talking to the young people. They had mentioned they could not afford a gap year, but this had been a good way to take a year out. She felt that VSO was an excellent opportunity, which was not made known to many young people.
She ended by saying that we really needed to look at what worked and what did not.
On reflection I could see the enthusiasm Sharon Hodgson had for VSO was achieved through spending time in the organisation and having dialogue with the young people. This, I feel, is so important when trying to find out first hand what works well.
CAN WE AFFORD TO ELIMINATE POVERTY?
Speakers: Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of State for International Development; Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children; Tearfund; World Vision; WWF and others
About 100 people, representing many of the UK’s leading non-profit organisations, gathered to discuss poverty. John Mitchell relates the discussion.
Michael White of The Guardian introduced the discussion and explained that this was part of a series of such meetings organised by the development agencies at each of the main party conferences.
Douglas Alexander, reflecting on the church setting, and the key role that the churches play in development, talked about his experiences with both his father and grandfather being ministers of the Church of Scotland and quoted George McLeod, a Free Church leader, that politics is how we share and religion is why we share.
The Secretary of State paid a generous tribute to the work of the Christian Socialist Movement, and stressed the importance of what CSM was doing.
He outlined the twelve years of progress on international development by Labour and said that the UK was now regarded as a global leader on aid effectiveness. He quoted Desmond Tutu that “a promise to the poor is a sacred promise” and said that Gordon Brown at the TUC conference had reiterated that we would keep our promises to the poor as a government.
He outlined some of the key features of the recent White Paper and said that the old Washington consensus was broken and what we needed now was inclusive economic growth. The gains against extreme poverty were now threatened by climate change and 4 milllion grappling with the consequences of climate change was a current reality not just a future threat and it was the poorest who were most affected.
In talking about the “bottom billion”, he said we had to focus on new ways of helping people who were in conflict-afflicted countries.
In talking about the Conservatives, he talked about how few of his candidates supported David Cameron’s position of ring-fencing spending on international development from future cuts and talked about their record of halving their aid budget as a proportion of GNP during their last period of government.
Jasmine Whitbread said the govern ment deserved great credit for its achievements on increasing the volume of aid.
She noted the tremendous achievement of reducing the number of children who were out of (primary) school from 140 million to 70 million, and on child survival countries like Nepal and Bangladesh were on target to reach or even exceed the Millenium Development Goal.
She complimented the government on its White Paper and particularly on its commitment to reaching the 0.7% target by 2013 but she stressed that it was important that we did not leave these issues to just the Prime Minister and DFID.
She said it was the right thing to do, it still had mass support, and reminded people of the 250,000 people who had come to Edinburgh. She outlined the BOND manifesto and the specific “asks”. She said how important it was to keep up the pressure on the government.
Michael White then used his chairman’s prerogative to closely question Douglas Alexander about the government’s commitments on aid volume. In response to which, Douglas Alexander reaffirmed that it would be a manifesto commitment to reach the 0.7% target by 2013.
In response to a question about the regulation of banks, the Secretary of State replied that globalisation had secured wealth and had distributed wealth and that in the UK’s case tax money from financial services had gone to spending on health, education etc. But reform was clearly needed and he referred to the work of the G20 on this and the importance of progress on issues such as tax havens.
In response to a question about the particular difficulties of conflict-afflicted states, the Secretary of State said that much of the most persistent poverty in the world was in such states and while DFID had developed the skills for delivering efficient aid to the poorest in well-organised states, it needed to develop additional skills to deliver to the poorest in the very different circumstances of conflict-afflicted states.
One questioner had been particularly struck by Jasmine Whitbread’s account of the success in reducing the number of children out of primary school from 140 million to 70 million and said that with more examples like this it would be easier to build public support for international development. The Secretary of State referred to examples that were listed in the White Paper that were particular achievements of British aid and gave the example of a country like South Korea which had gone over the years from an aid recipient to an aid donor. Jasmine Whitbread said how important it was to focus on the difficulties of the conflict-afflicted countries and how half the children out of primary school were in such countries, and SCF had its own target of getting 1million children into school.
In response to a question about providing leadership on climate change, the Secretary of State commented that he stood on the shoulders of giants who had gone before, such as Judith Hart and Clare Short. He stressed the importance of getting a global deal at Copenhagen and the importance of targets before 2015 and on the financing issue he said that the British contribution to climate change funds would not use more than 10% of official development assistance.