Friday, 27 December 2013

Debt crisis gets personal

Debt has become an ever growing problem over recent years, with payday loans in particular driving people deeper into trouble.
Debt has become a reality of modern life. It seems almost from the moment a person leaves school or university they become saddled with debts. Student fees, credit cards and then mortgages - all add up to a lifetime of debt.
The total level of personal debt in Britain is £1.43 trillion, an average of £54,000 per household - up from £29,000 a decade ago. Some £1.27tn of the debt is now owed in mortgages and £158 billion in consumer credit.
People are being driven increasingly in these cash-strapped times to look for loans to tide them over. After the credit cards are maxed out the next place to look is the bank overdraft or loan companies.
Of course, if people were paid more there would be less need to go to the loan companies.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that between 1977 and 2008 the wage share fell from 59 per cent of national income to 53 per cent, while the share of profits rose from 25 per cent to 29 per cent.
Payday loans are theoretically supposed to tide the person over until pay or benefits day. The problem comes with the practice.
The Daily Record reported recently on a woman who took out four payday loans of £300 each to pay for her father's funeral.
She thought she would get the money and pay the loans off but they just kept building up. She would take out one loan to repay the other and also got bank charges.
Then when she got paid the companies took the money. "I would be paid at midnight and the money would be gone in an hour or two. It meant I didn't have a penny. I ended up with rent arrears and was threatened with eviction. I couldn't eat and had to beg and borrow to get my two kids anything. We were surviving on 25p noodles," she told the paper.
She then got harassed by debt collectors, being bombarded with constant phone calls, texts and emails. She has now got on top of her debts with the help of the Govern Law Centre.
The payday loan can be OK if it is paid off in the time agreed. If you were to borrow £90 from a typical lender for three days it would cost £8.37, which is likely to be less than the bank charges for an unauthorised overdraft.
So if a £200 loan was taken out over 14 days, it would cost £234.27. If the lender is unable to retrieve that money from the borrower's account on the repayment date, a £20 late payment charge is applied. If the loan is rolled over for another 14 days then £274.17 will be owed. If then it is rolled over for another month, the debt will be £368.77.
If the lender cannot be repaid on the final agreed day, interest is added for up to 60 days at 1 per cent a day, then frozen. In this example, that would add more than £200 to the cost before fees were frozen. After four months the debt would have grown to almost £600.
The rates of 5,853 per cent APR quoted by the lender Wonga and 2,400.8 per cent APR by Money Shop are over a year (APR means annual percentage rate). The lenders point out that these are intended to be short-term loans, so APR is not a good indicator.
Critics claim that the companies do not check out the creditworthiness of the borrowers. The Citizens Advice Bureau has reported that among 2,000 loans taken out with 113 lenders, in nine out of 10 cases the borrower was not asked to provide documents to show they could afford the loan.
Of those who had repayment problems, seven in 10 said they had been put under pressure to extend the loan, while 84 per cent said they had not been offered a freeze on interest rates and charges when they said they were struggling to repay.
The use of Continuous Payment Authorities, whereby the lenders can access borrowers' bank accounts, have also caused problems.
"It is unacceptable that in a modern society, growing numbers of low-income households have little choice but to resort to unscrupulous lenders and to be subject to the abuse of power and increased deprivation to which this can lead," says Church Action on Poverty director Niall Cooper.
"Better regulation of the credit industry is urgently needed to bring down the cost of socially harmful credit and to ensure that lenders behave more responsibly."
A recent survey commissioned by consumer organisation Which? revealed that 400,000 people are using payday loans to pay food and fuel bills and 240,000 people are using the loans to pay off existing debts.
Government it seems is finally acting on payday loans, capping the amount that the companies can charge.
Though as Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) chief Martin Wheatley has warned limiting rates, loan terms or advertising would not necessarily curb lenders' behaviour - and could force consumers to use even less reputable providers.
The FCA has already proposed other changes to payday loans, including limiting roll-overs to a maximum of two and introducing more controls on how continuous payment authorities can be used.
One alternative source of credit is provided by credit unions. Credit unions are mutual loan and savings organisations made up of members drawn from a particular area, such as trade unions, the police or a religious group. So there is a need to be qualified by virtue of being a part of one of these groups.
There are now 400 credit unions in Britain and Northern Ireland, with over one million members. In other countries they are much more popular, with 45 per cent of US citizens and three-quarters of people in Ireland being members of a credit union.
The British government is keen to extend credit unions, looking to double the number of members.
Credit unions are prepared to offer loans of between £50 and £3,000. They offer loans at more reasonable rates - typically 6 per cent rising to 26 per cent APR.
Sometimes loans can be under 6 per cent a year, but the interest is usually around 12.7 per cent APR going up to a maximum 26.8 per cent APR. So if £100 is borrowed over a year, the most that needs to be repaid is around £127.
In order to borrow from a credit union, an individual has to be a member and to have paid in for a period.
There are also savings accounts available. Credit unions do not have shareholders, so all funds go into the running of the organisation and better terms for savers and borrowers.
They are also beginning to expand into other products like current accounts and morgages.
Credit unions certainly represent a better option for those looking to borrow. But maybe if wages went up, with measures like the living wage implemented across the board, there might be less need to borrow in the first place.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Challenge for the Pope is whether his teachings result in real social justice inside and outside the Church

The papacy of Pope Francis has brought a breath of fresh air to the Catholic Church.

His message has been one of social justice, not only about embracing the poor but asking why in a world of such abundance so many live in poverty.

It is these fundamentals of his message that many, particularly in the media world, choose to ignore.

Instead of embracing the message of social justice and its ramifications, many have chosen instead to idolise the man himself.

Maybe in the inane modern world of celebrity this was inevitable but it is also to misunderstand the message that the Pope is trying to convey. It is not all about charity but justice.

Christmas is a time when charity comes to the fore. People reach out and give to the homeless, foodbanks and other charities. However, charity as an end in itself has little merit.

Giving to a homeless charity at Christmas, whilst ignoring the homeless for the rest of the year could almost amount to self-indulgence.

It was Pope John XXIII who said that charity can never be a substitute for justice – this appears to be a mantra that Pope Francis also embraces.

Simply adopting a charitable response to social problems that can easily be resolved if the political will exists is simply putting a band aid on the problem. At best a salver of conscience, at worst willful collusion in the causes of the injustice in the first place.

So a campaigner for justice cannot accept a situation of growing homelessness, much of it caused by deliberate government policies being implemented to cut benefits.

Similarly, nor can they accept in a country of 88 billionaires that 500,000 people have to go to food banks.

In the coming year, it must also be hoped that more is heard from Pope Francis on the need to attain equality as well as address poverty.

The Pope has made a bold start in tackling Vatican corruption, consulting the laity and in setting up the commission on child abuse. However, the basic structures of the Church need to change.

A Church based on social justice cannot go on discriminating against women in the way that it presently does.

If it is serious about child abuse then the structures that allowed that abuse to occur in the first place need to change.

The position of priest needs to be reviewed and reformed, from qualifications to practice. Structural change will be the mettle test of whether the Catholic Church really is changing.

The Pope has made a great start at a rhetorical and reforming level; the challenge though will be how far these changes can be made reality.

How far pursuit of the social teachings means demanding justice, not just charity and also whether that demand for justice will extend to the structures of the Church itself.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Why media see Mandela as a saint but Chavez as a sinner

There has been limited social and economic change in South Africa since the fall of apartheid. Nelson Mandela helped defeat apartheid but he did not bring economic transformation for the mass of people living in poverty.
In terms of the media and political lexicon it is interesting to compare the attitude to the death of Mandela with that of Hugo Chavez, who did bring economic transformation to Venezuela. Whilst Mandela is viewed as a saint, Chavez remains a sinner - these different attitudes say much about the capitalist values that underpin many of the recent Mandela tributes

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Healthy living can help cut dementia but society has to change to make it happen

The news that a study by Cardiff University has found that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the likelihood of dementia by 60 per cent is a cause for hope amid a growing epidemic.
The research, which has involved following 2,235 people since 1979, found that regular exercise, eating fruit and veg, staying slim, light drinking and no smoking reduced the likelihood of getting dementia.
The researchers also found that if 50 per cent of men had taken up the five options there would have been 13 per cent less dementia generally.
I was fascinated by the research, given that my father and grandmother (Dad’s Mum) got dementia. Given the genetic trends, dementia developments are always of more than a passing interest to my brother and myself as well as our cousins and offspring. That said: Dad really did follow the five criteria set out for a healthy lifestyle. He exercised every day, always going for regular walks and before that swimming. He ate a balanced diet. He went on a stringent diet about 30 years before he died, reducing his weight by a couple of stone, then made sure he never really put on much weight. He drank moderately and gave up smoking at about the same time as he lost the weight. Prior to that he was really only a moderate pipe smoker.
So the latest research doesn’t really throw a lot of light on dementia amongst the Donovans. We are still very much in the genetic analysis, namely that it is handed from generation to generation somehow. The upside for us is that Mum had an almost photographic memory.
The latest research though useful, underlines the need for more research. There are 800,000 plus dementia sufferers in the UK, with the number set to increase over coming years. Critics have attacked the low level of funding for research into dementia compared to cancer. Cancer research receives four times the level of research funding that dementia does.
At the same time that the research was published, Prime Minister David Cameron was set to chair a G8 international conference on dementia or as it was more dramatically stated “the 21st century plague.”
This prioritisation of this disease internationally must be welcomed but it also raises questions.
If the Cardiff University research is accepted, namely that factors about the environment in which we live can be conducive or otherwise to getting conditions like dementia, then that raises many questions. Not least the whole manner of human evolution in the 21st century.
The lifestyle of the mass of people is becoming more and more sedentary. Economic progress is being driven increasingly by internet based technology.
Young and old alike spend growing amounts of time locked into laptops or mobiles, seemingly cut off from the natural world. It always amazes me when travelling through some fantastic rolling countryside on the train to observe people plugged into these various electronic devices, totally missing the panorama going on outside the window.
The sedentary existence is further promoted by the loss of playing fields and the like across the country. Computer games abound. Obesity is increasing to epidemic proportions, particularly among the young as a result of this major change in our way of living and working.
There is also the growing ignorance regarding food. The explosion of fast foods on the back of a culture that no longer creates the space for proper meals being eaten and shared.
The fast food epidemic has helped fuel the obesity epidemic. Many people today will not know that a healthy lifestyle requires fruit and vegetables as part of the diet. The public health message about the need for the five a day of fruit and veg has hit home with some but many remain ignorant.
Then there is the basic lifestyle of people today. The insecurity of work, leads to stress and less possibility of a work /life balance. What hope is there for someone working long hours for low pay in say a call centre environment? This lifestyle is not conducive to following the five elements set out for healthy living, if anything the opposite. A sedentary existence that does not allow time to exercise and due to stress pushes the individual toward drinking and smoking. When the person also has children to care for, the problems multiply even further.
As someone who endured the pain of watching my Dad descend into the depths of dementia, whereby he did not recognise any of the family, I welcome any advance in averting or treating the disease. However, if we are to take the medical research seriously, then there is a need to look to the sort of society being created.
Low wages, insecure work, sedentary type existences do not promote healthy living. Everyone needs to take responsibility for the way they live but there also needs to be wider look taken at how conducive life patterns are to that goal.
The ultimate conclusion could be that the type of society being created today makes conditions like dementia more not less likely to develop. If we are to all follow the five elements that ensure more healthy living then just maybe the whole way in which society is organised today needs revaluation. For it will only be by taking a truly holistic approach to how our society is organised that conditions like dementia can really be overcome.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Mandela committed to the struggle and freedom

The enduring theme of Nelson Mandela’s life was the struggle for freedom.
He was part of a group of ANC individuals with the same goal in their lives. They included Oliver Tambo, Mac Maharaj and Thabo Mbeki.
Reading Mandela’s biography the “Long Walk to Freedom” the theme that resonates is that of the liberation struggle. His life has been an inspiration to all those involved in similar struggles around the world. Many of these struggles start off as the few before gathering pace to become the many.
It is in the context of struggle that Mandela’s life needs to be set. Some of the eulogising since his death was announced on Thursday has come from strange quarters. Viewing some of the coverage here it was as though the whole of the UK was united in opposition to apartheid, with those pop concerts being the thing that really helped free Mandela.
These views are absurd. Many of those who now proclaim in favour of Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle were firmly on the other side at the time. Let’s remember, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of this country for 10 years, she stood out defiantly almost alone at times in opposition to the imposition of sanctions on South Africa.
The same British establishment that now seems to want to be allied with all that was good about Nelson Mandela continues to sweep its own atrocities such as those committed in Northern Ireland under the carpet.
Maybe if the British state wants to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela it should take a tip out of his book and create a peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland. This one act in South Africa dealt with much of the hurt and suffering of the past, it also marked an openness that has long been alien to the old imperial country Britain.
Mandela was a hero of South Africa, he led the fight to end apartheid, however in the rush to eulogise, we need to remember that the great man did not bring a better material state to the mass of people in that country. People still live in poverty. One of the great tragedies of South Africa has been that despite Mandela’s dream of equality, the same powerful corporations which dominated under the apartheid regime, seamlessly retained their power and position under Mandela led and subsequent South African governments.
Maybe this was a key to a peaceful transition but it also calls into question how much has changed. Capitalism still rules and mass inequality exists.
Mandela would have recognised this situation. It would also be fair to say he did his bit in ridding the country of its racist rulers, it is for the next generation to sort out poverty and inequality. The struggle continues. Mandela was a great and inspiring man, from which we all can learn...but let’s remember he was also human.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Kennedy was a PR masterclass

Jonathan Freedland is right to single out hope as a major reason that the Kennedy myth endures (JFK 50 years on: Idealism of a story that ended before its time, 22 November). The Kennedy story also remains a masterclass in public relations. The creation of the Camelot image, the careful use of film and photography, the image of vitality. The problem is that the PR has largely taken over from any semblance of reality in the popular perception of Kennedy. The family man was actually a serial adulterer, the man of vigour and vitality kept going with drugs.On achievements, the truth of what might of have happened in Vietnam will never be known. What the Kennedy administration did do was create a blueprint to promote the support of some bloody dictators across Latin American and beyond, favoured only according to their usefulness to the overall goal of US global hegemony. The enduring fascination with Kennedy does relate to a desire for something better. It does though also amount to idolatry, a desire to filter out the truth and live in the past.

- Guardian letters - 27/11/2013

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Who cares for our carers?

Vulnerable people need someone acting as an advocate in their corner - whether it's someone in care without family, or the carer on a zero hour contract

It has been four months since Mum died. Recently I bumped into one of her former carers.

Sue* looked exhausted. Working for the care company had clearly taken its toll.

On a zero hour contract, she told of the difficulties of being at the total whim of the managers regarding hours. So she could get a day packed with back to back calls or get a couple of hours of work in the morning then a gap of four hours before again getting stacked up calls into the evening.
She told how often she wanted to stay longer to get the job done but there was the pressure to get in an out as quickly as possible.

The final care company that we had for Mum were on the whole pretty good, they provided the care and had a decent oversight process. But they still employed their workers on zero hour contracts that no doubt burned many of them out, as seemed to be the case with Sue.

There has been much talk recently about the length of calls, with a fixation on 15 minute calls as not being sufficient for care needs. This can of course be the case but there are other times when the call could be less. If it is literally a toilet call, where the carers are coming at a specific time to see if the person wants the toilet and they don’t then the call can be less than 15 minutes.

Generally, the experience with Mum with care in the home worked out fairly well, though the burden increased all the time as she became more helpless. Had she come out of hospital rather than dying there, the next stop would have been a care home.

Our family had experience of care homes for the last 3.5 years of my Dad’s life. He had dementia, which got steadily worse over the last five years of his life.

Dad spent just over a month in his first care home, then he went onto two others spending around 18 months in each. He moved home as the need for more specialised care for the dementia condition increased.

These homes were generally good, though again the concern had to be how the staff were treated and the desire to obtain maximum return from the clients. One example with Dad concerned a proliferation of haircuts.

In one memorable exchange, I suggested Dad had less hair than he’d ever had and yet was having more haircuts than ever. I could see what was happening, the home were receiving the £700 a week plus for care but obviously sought out other income streams. Haircuts, nails and other things fitted these extras. They were of course justified on the basis of the dignity of the person. A valid argument, but also one that can be used to increase the bill.

There are a number of lessons to be drawn about care both at home and in nursing homes. The first is the need for the vulnerable person to have someone acting as an advocate in their corner. An individual who will stand up with the care company, home or hospital.
I largely did this for my Mum and Dad but it was always worrying when seeing an elderly person with seemingly no friends or family. Who would fight their corner?

The other area is the whole treatment of care workers. These people do vital skilled work that should be valued by society. They should be treated as such, not as some sort of modern day slave on zero hours contracts. It is not right that carers should be on the minimum wage and casual contracts. They should be salaried, with decent wages and other conditions of employment like holidays and sick pay. This change in the employment relationship would change the whole care sector overnight.

The present approach of bringing in people training them up, exploiting them to burn out point and then no doubt getting rid of them is no way to run care in the UK today. Staff need to be treated properly and the whole sector needs regulation. Then maybe there could be a move toward a care sector that is fit for purpose in terms of dealing with our elderly population in the 21st century.
*Name has been changed
see - Independent - Voices

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Northern Ireland collusion - Lethal allies

Killers on the lose, police collusion and it all happened here
A new book launched recently details a police force totally out of control, implicated in many civilian deaths and colluding with death squads to target a minority.
The surprise for many, who may not have heard of these revelations, is that it all happened in Britain. The virtual silence concerning the publication of “Lethal Allies” maybe says something about the state of denial that still exists on these islands regarding much of what happened in the statelet of the north of Ireland in the names of the British people.
Lethal Allies details120 deaths that occurred in an area known as “the triangle of death” in the north of Ireland between 1972 and 1978. Only one of the people killed had any links with republican paramilitary organisations.
The Triangle of Death” extended from Tyrone and Armagh in the north down to Dundalk, Monaghan and on occasion Dublin.
There are details of people in pubs or going about their business, gunned down in cold blood or blown up. The lack of any effective follow up to these crimes led a number of people in the early stages to question whether there was collusion going on between the loyalist killers, the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
Among those to speak out early on were local priests Father Denis Faul and Father Raymond Murray who wrote a booklet on the ongoing slaughter called “the Triangle of Death.”
Authored by journalist Anne Cadwallader, Lethal Allies was a joint effort involving the Pat Finucane Centre and Alan Brecknell, whose father was murdered at Donnelly’s bar in 1975.
A lot of the evidence contained in this comprehensive book was obtained from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) set up by former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland Sir Hugh Orde.
The HET were supposed to investigate individual cases and then put together an overarching report but this never materialised. The lack of an overall report was one of the reasons for the book being produced.
It seems that those in London and those guiding the war in the north of Ireland knew from the early stages that there was collusion going on between the security forces and the police
The records show that some 1800 guns stolen from the Ulster Defence Regiment (a division of the British army), finished up in paramilitary hands. The British government knew that 15% of the UDR were in Loyalist groups, so served as soldiers and paramilitaries at the same time.
In one case two GAA football supporters had gone over the border to watch a match. On the way back Colm McCartney and Sean Farmer were pulled over by a fake UDR checkpoint and shot dead. An RUC patrol had earlier been stopped by the checkpoint, yet knowing that there was nothing official due to be happening in that area did nothing about it.
The charmed life of Loyalist paramilitary Robin Jackson is a recurrent theme of the book. Involved in murder after murder, Jackson continually evades justice. In the early stages he was identified by the wife of Patrick Campbell, who he murdered, but the evidence was not considered strong enough by prosecutors to proceed. “He all but confessed in a police car but this was still not regarded as strong enough to proceed,” said Cadwallader, who recalled how Jackson had been caught with a list of names believed to be targets. He went on to kill many more people, prior to dying of cancer himself in 1998.
Jackson crops up time and time again.”There is incontrovertible evidence that Robin Jackson was an RUC agent,” said Cadwallader.
What becomes clear is that the police did very little to investigate and apprehend those responsible. The result was that many more people were killed by several individuals like Jackson, who went on to become multiple murderers.
One of the central messages of ‘Lethal Allies’ is that if the security forces had been doing their job, acting within the law and to uphold the law, much of this killing could have been avoided and the whole conflict ended earlier.
One view offered was there were those in the security services who - in line with past colonial struggles - wanted to precipitate a situation whereby they could be allowed an even freer rein to operate.
Indeed, the crucial part of the whole collusion story missing from this book is who was pulling the strings from London and how it all ties back to the highest echelons of government and the security state.
Drawing on the work of the HET and others, Cadwallader puts together a comprehensive account of those involved, stretching up into the higher regions of the RUC but it is difficult to believe that killing and disorder on such a scale was not being authorised from a far higher level. That is a story that still remains to be told.
It is a view shared by Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, Francie Molloy who believes the British government has far more information it can put into the public arena on collusion and the role of state forces in these activities.
In one chapter, there is detail of the destructive effect all of these deaths have had on the families left behind. So there is Maureen McGleenan, the mother of Gerard, who never really recovered from the death of her son. He died as he stepped onto the street, as a bomb went off at the Step Inn in Keady. Maureen visited her son’s grave every day for 30 years. Many suffered trauma, receiving little help to cope. The work of the HET though has helped many, beginning some sort of healing process as a result of having the truth at least partially officially recognised.
The author revealed that some of the families of those murdered are pursuing civil actions. Some are suing the Chief Constable of the PSNI because they want disclosure and an apology. “Some sort of truth commission is needed for individual families who’ve been treated with such cruelty by the state,” said Cadwallader, who suggested that Northern Ireland just will not be able to move on until these issues are dealt with.
“I’ve said I don’t see the point of getting an 80 year old man in the dock for the murder of my father,” said Brecknell, who told of the importance of the families’ stories being told.
Former Northern Ireland Police ombudsman Baroness  Nuala O’Loan has suggested an Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life)  Compliant Investigation Unit should be set up with full police investigatory powers and no time limit.
There clearly needs to be something done to bring out the truth of what happened over three decades in the north of Ireland.
The HET made a start but the grudging way things have been handled, suggest that this is the minimum that those with much to hide thought they could get away with. As time passes, so the task of dealing with the crimes of the past fades. Alan Brecknell makes a good point, about dragging up 80 year olds to face the courts but the truth of what happened and why does need to be told.
Time is running out. Many of those involved have already died off. Some of the evidence has been destroyed and more may well be as time goes by. And there are many on these islands that hope to see this period simply shepherded off into the historic archives.
This though will not help the victims or their families who survive. A failure to acknowledge just what did go on during these years in the north of Ireland from the Cabinet table to the assassin on the ground will only mean that it could all happen again.
Indeed, there is already a legacy of the Troubles in the years since with the so called war on terror. In this case, despite that lack of bombs and bullets on the streets, repressive anti-terror laws have been brought in going beyond much of what existed during the years of the conflict in the north.
A legacy of this period in the north of Ireland has been the conversion of the rule of law into an easily manipulable set of rules used by those in power to persecute minorities. It is a dangerous slope that ends in the police state, which is what it would seem the north of Ireland descended into for much of the last century.  

* Lethal Allies is published by Mercier Press, price £12.99

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

"Sylvia Pankhurst – suffragette, socialist and scourge of empire"

This excellent book from Katherine Connelly examines the life of political activist Sylvia Pankhurst from her early days in the suffragette movement to fighting colonialism and fascism in the 1930s and 40s.

One of the particular strengths of this book is that the author appears grounded in the struggle of progressive movements. As a result, she manages to bring home just how parallel many of the battles fought by Sylvia Pankhurst are to the world today.

An early feature of the book is the split between Sylvia and her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel Pankhurst over the way in which women’s suffrage is to be attained. 

All three women are part of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), however, Emmeline and Christabel wanted an elitist approach that saw middle class and upper class women in the vanguard. They were to act on behalf of other women, the working classes not being up to the task.

In the longer term this saw Christabel and Emmeline support the war and back the Conservative Party. Indeed, Emmeline was set to stand for the Conservative Party when she died in 1928.

In contrast Sylvia favoured working class organisation in the labour movement. So women’s suffrage was but part of the wider struggle for working class rights.

So Sylvia founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes that proved more effective, mobilising working class women, working with new unionism and securing the first meeting with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in 1914.

Sylvia was not the one stop shop that her sister and mother represented, seeing the need for struggle from the grass roots up. The book includes detail of her numerous imprisonments and a vivid description in her own words of how her jaws were forced apart when being forcibly fed while on hunger strike in prison.

Sylvia was anti-war, seeing the suffering that the conflict brought on working class people generally and women in particular.

She was early to point out through the newspaper, the Dreadnought, how the war merely benefited the wealthy in society.

Sylvia grew quickly disillusioned with the Labour Party which she saw as a reformist rather than revolutionary body. This disillusion reached a height at the outbreak of World War I, with Labour MPs so whole heartedly supporting the war.

Sylvia was an early supporter of the Russian Revolution, believing that the soviets based in the working class movement were the way to bring about real change. They were setting up an alternative government not seeking to tamper round the edges with an already moribund Parliamentary system. She fell out with Lenin over the method of approach to bringing about socialism in Britain. 

The Russian leader seeing a role for the likes of the Labour Party and Parliamentary action as part of the road to bringing socialism to the masses. Ironically, Sylvia then took an isolationist approach, similar to that adopted by her sister and mother in the WSPU toward other movements, refusing to have anything to do with organisations that were not committed to a wholesale type revolutionary approach. This led to her not supporting the Poplar rates strike in 1921 that saw Labour councillors like George Lansbury going to prison.

The author though while highlighting the inconsistencies of some moves by Sylvia, further points to her far sightedness in seeing the fascist threat long before most people. 

So while many in the British ruling class seemed to welcome the ascent of Mussolini to power in Italy in 1922, Sylvia warns of the upcoming dangers of appeasing fascism. 
She was proved right.

The final phase of Sylvia Pankhurst’s life focuses on her anti-colonial struggle, particularly in relation to Ethiopia. She had a strong tie to the country, arguing against the 1920s invasion which Britain allowed Mussolini to undertake. Sylvia spent her final few years in Ethiopia up to her death in 1960.

This is an excellent overview of the life of Sylvia Pankhurst which manages to unlock many of the problems of working class struggle for the first half of the 20th century. The author’s understanding of struggle in a working class context makes the book that much more accessible and relevant to what is happening in our society today. An excellent read.  

* Published by Pluto Press, £13

see: Morning Star - 25/11/2013