The coalition is ending the social contract

 

By Matt Hawkins

What did Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, and Tony Benn all have in common? Queue the worst punchline ever: they all believed that government was bound by a ‘social contract’ to act for and in the interests of its citizens (you were warned).

Whilst pre-contract society was lawless and, according to Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, the social contract – signed between the public and the government – was meant to guarantee protection by the state and a decent standard of living for all.

Today Britain can feel more like the lawless society described by these political thinkers than the mature state that was supposed to have evolved in its wake. Life might not yet be ‘short’, but for many it can certainly feel solitary, poor, nasty and brutish.

If the government’s heartless approach to reforming the Disability Living Allowance and toughening welfare conditionality is anything to go by, it seems that you have to be perpetually superhuman – never unwell and never out of work – in order to be entitled to even a basic level of income.

Never-mind the fact that individuals can hardly be blamed when every new job attracts enough applicants to fill a small Hampshire village or working all the hours that Iain Duncan Smith demands still doesn’t bring home enough money to pay the bills.

Indeed, it is those born with the twin attributes of money and political influence who thrive in this Brave New World – just as it was those born with the benefits of brute strength who prospered in Hobbes’ ‘Old World’.

The reason we no longer have a right to a job or decent welfare support when we’re out of work is, quite simply, because making such guarantees would clash with the corporate giants that have come to hold huge political influence.

As Naomi Klein documented in her book No Logo, while a burgeoning number of employees was once seen as the hallmark of a successful business, cutting jobs and slashing wages are the new gold standard that help companies to drive up ‘efficiency’. Jobs that once provided stable incomes in the UK are being packaged off to economic enterprise zones in Asia where it is easier to pay cripplingly low wages and undercut workers’ basic rights.

Whilst UKIP likes to blame migrant workers for UK job losses – goading the un(der)employed by shouting ‘fight, fight, fight’ as if they’re in a school playground – they should really be pointing the finger at the corporate monoliths that have outsourced all their jobs (and then outsourced them some more). Continue reading

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LONDON’S ‘HOTHOUSES’ NEED ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES,

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London’s buildings are often expensive to heat or cool and poorly insulated according to Green Party MEP, Jean Lambert.

In a message for Earth Day, which was marked by events across the globe yesterday, she said energy efficiency and conservation measures were key to cutting London’s greenhouse gas emissions – and lowering energy bills.

Earth Day, marked by the UN each year on April 22, this year took as its focus ‘green cities’.

The UN estimates more than half of the world’s population lives in cities – and has called for a ‘transition’ towards renewable energy generation and investment in energy efficiency in urban areas.

Ms Lambert said: “Almost a decade ago I wrote a report looking in detail at how energy-inefficient London’s homes were – and the contribution that made to high energy bills and climate change.

“Without a concerted focus on sustainability in housing by the Mayor of London, little has changed.

“London still has some of the most inefficient housing in the UK – and we’ll have to invest in insulation and energy conservation if we are going to become the sustainable, healthy city Londoners need.

“Instead, we have a Mayor and a Government who are more concerned with weakening the laws protecting Londoners from the exhaust fumes and polluted air that’s killing 4,000 Londoners early every year and allowing fracking in South and South-East London.

“But London, like all the world’s great cities, will have to evolve as energy becomes more expensive and climate change worsens.

“As well as lowering our household energy bills, public investment in energy conservation could create thousands of much-needed jobs in London’s construction sector.”

Read Jean Lambert’s report ‘Hothouses: Climate Change and London’s Housing’, examining the state of energy efficiency in London’s housing stock. It’s available for download here:

 

 

REMEMBER BANGLADESH FACTORY DISASTER – ONE YEAR ON

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Green Party MEP Jean Lambert has urged support for one of the several events in the UK commemorating the Rana Plaza factory disaster, which took place exactly a year ago.

Some 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured – mostly workers in the Ready-Made Garment industry supplying clothes to UK High Streets – when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Jean Lambert visited Bangladesh last month as chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation to South Asia to discuss a wide range of political topics, including workers’ rights and factory safety.

Tomorrow she will mark the anniversary by visiting a garment factory in Finsbury Park, North London, to compare conditions faced by workers in the UK and Bangladesh.

The she will take part in a ‘Flash Mob’ on Oxford Street organised by ‘Fashion Revolution’ – a global campaign run by insiders calling for the fashion industry to clean up its supply chains.

Fashion revolution are urging people to wear clothes inside out for the day – so as to display the manufacturers’ label – to raise awareness of the Rana Plaza disaster.

Speaking at a recent conference on workers’ rights in the ready-made garment industry organised with aid charity Care International last week, the London Green MEP welcomed the ‘good’ progress being made on the appointment of factory inspectors, inspection of buildings and changes to Bangladesh’s employment law.

Jean Lambert said she was pleased that over 100 unions have been formed in the garment sector in the last year.

But she said there were still problems making sure all victims of the factory collapse and the earlier Tasreen factory fire received compensation – as not all companies selling the clothes made at Rana Plaza have paid into a compensation fund agreed last year.

“There remain problems – not just in relation to full compensation, but also in terms of what happens to workers and their jobs if a factory is found to be unsafe and forced to close,” she said.

“But the willingness is there from many stakeholders to make progress and better the living conditions and wages of the workers.

“The European Parliament will be watching to ensure that progress is maintained and that workers – many of whom are women – will be able to make a decent living in safe conditions.”