Food Waste and Hunger Side by Side - Scandalous!

Adnan Al-Daini

Pigs, marabou storks and human scavengers compete for food waste
at Dandora dump on the outskirts of Nairobi.
(Photo: AlertNet)

"Waste not, want not." - How does the human race measure up to this wise saying when it comes to one of the essentials of life, food?

Not well, it seems. Research by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, reported in the Guardian, found that between 30% and 50% of all the food produced in the world, equivalent to 1.2 to 2bn tonnes, never makes it to a plate and ends up as waste every year. Reasons for this colossal waste are given:

“Unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with poor engineering and agricultural practices, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities…In the UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers' exacting standards on physical appearance, while up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers.”

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that per capita food waste in the US and northern Europe is 95-115 kg/year while in sub Saharan Africa and south/south East Asia it is 6-11 kg/year. What a scandalous waste of resources! Lest we forget, the energy needed to produce and distribute this staggering amount of wasted food comes overwhelmingly from burning fossil fuels, with greenhouse gas emissions exacerbating global warming.

Cutting the Welfare Safety Net Is Not the Way to Make Work Pay

Adnan Al-Daini

How does one assess the cuts to the welfare safety net? Let us, for the sake of argument, put aside whether cutting the deficit should be the priority in the depths of a recession. The argument of the government seems to be (a) we must make work pay and (b) there is no alternative.

Making work pay could be achieved by a number of actions: raising the minimum wage for example, restoring the 10p tax band at the bottom to be paid for by restoring the 50p tax band, and introducing a higher band at the top. It is not right that the method chosen to make it appear that work pays is to cut the welfare safety net to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Over 10 years up to 2012 executive pay trebled despite the double dip recession and the economic crash of 2008, with the average pay of chief executives of Britain's top companies at £4.8m, equivalent to 148 times the average wage. It is this skewed system of rewards that is keeping wages low, with taxpayers having to supplement the income of the working poor for them to survive. These in-work benefits, together with pension, constitute a substantial share of the welfare bill.

The in-work benefits are tantamount to a taxpayer's subsidy to enable those at the top of the income pyramid to receive such inflated salaries. How wrong can that be? The taxation system should be used to try and narrow the income and wealth gap between the very rich and the rest of society. Certainly there is a strong case for that.

Performance-Related Pay for Teachers Is the Wrong Move

Adnan Al-Daini

So Michael Gove, the education secretary, is "minded to accept the recommendations from the Teachers' Review Body". He was referring to the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers. Does he really think this is what is needed in schools to improve the performance of teachers?

Teaching in a school is not for the fainthearted. I should know, for I taught mathematics in a school, taught engineering in a university and worked in industry. School teaching was the most demanding, the poorest paid, and the least appreciated, and that was before government interference in the minutiae of education became fashionable.

It is an all-consuming job that requires your best endeavour at all times. Moreover, you need the support of your colleagues, particularly if you are just starting. Their advice, and possibly some of their teaching materials are invaluable.

Not everything can be measured, and any system you use to say teacher A should be rewarded and not teacher B will be flawed. It will be divisive, destroying the cooperative, collaborative dynamic among the teaching staff, which is at the heart of a good school.

Think Before You 'Road Rage'

Adnan Al-Daini

Why do some of us turn into intolerant, unforgiving monsters once we're driving a car?

Some time ago, on a rainy day, I was driving to a meeting. I approached a roundabout thinking I was going straight on, then I suddenly realised I should actually be turning left.

Glancing to my left, making sure there was no vehicle, I indicated and moved to the left lane. Looking in my rear view mirror I could see that the driver behind me had had to slow down. I put up my hand in apology and acknowledgement that it was entirely my fault. He then started driving aggressively, flashing his headlights and tailgating my car, and I could see in my rear view mirror that he was furious.

Thinking that he was either going to ram my car or cause an accident with his erratic driving, I took the first available left turning, which turned out to be the empty car park of an official looking building, hoping he would carry on and leave me alone. To my horror he followed me into the car park. There was no option for me but to stop. I stopped, opened the car door and sat waiting for him.

Boom and Bust, Fuelled by Banks for Benefit of Banks

Adnan Al-Daini

Something stands out when one tries to understand the roots of the economic crash and the following crises that are currently engulfing Europe and the US.  It is how money is created.

There are two related elements to this. One is what the bank does if you go to it and ask for a loan for a business, mortgage …etc., and the second is fractional reserve banking. Without some knowledge of these two tools of finance, no true understanding of the way the economic system works or the crash is possible.

The campaigning group Positive Money explains that only 3% of the money supply is in the form of notes and coins created by the UK government. The rest, 97%, is electronic money created by banks out of nothing when they make a loan. It is created by typing the amount on a computer and crediting it to your account. The interest charged varies, and in the case of loans on credit cards it is exorbitant. With this power at hand, it is not surprising that banks use the hard sell to get people to take loans. An enormous part of the money created in this way, hundreds of billions of pounds over the 10 years before the crash, found its way into financing mortgages for housing, which grew from1997-2007 by 370%. Hundreds of billions more of this new money went into financial services and casino type banking, "harming the real economy and lowering employment and growth."

Corrupt Capitalism – the Denial of Equality of Opportunity

Adnan Al-Daini

The poor die younger and are getting poorer – and we're
happily buying into the propaganda that they somehow
deserve it.
(Helen Wakefield/Tanya Gold/The Guardian)

Those who have been successful in society anywhere in the world either in business, the professions, academia or political achievements fall into two categories: either they consider themselves fortunate, or attribute their achievements to their hard work and relentless drive. 

If they belong to the first they will show compassion and concern, and endeavour to be fair in their dealings with those of modest achievement.  Those who belong to the second tend to be dismissive of the economic plight of the poor and vulnerable, and put the entire blame at their door.

Let us put the morality aspect aside for a moment and take a closer look at these two positions to find which one of them is better supported by the facts. - How good is Britain at providing equal opportunities to its citizens? 

An OECD study examines this issue through a measure termed “intergenerational social mobility” defined as:

[Intergenerational social] mobility reflects the extent to which individuals move up (or down) the social ladder compared with their parents. A society can be deemed more or less mobile depending on whether the link between parents’ and children’s social status as adults is looser or tighter. In a relatively immobile society an individual’s wage, education or occupation tends to be strongly related to those of his/her parents.”

Where does Britain come under the above definition?  The report compares twelve developed OECD countries. Britain comes out as the most socially immobile country, followed closely by Italy and USA.  Denmark has the best intergenerational social mobility, and the two countries closest to Denmark are Australia and Norway.

Corrupt Capitalism Destroys the Economy and Society

Adnan Al-Daini

One of the most powerful sustaining characteristics that make us unique among the animal kingdom is hope. It is what sustains us in times of hardship, tragedy and despair. Austerity mania, for the 99%ers, that is currently sweeping Europe, is getting close to killing hope.

The evidence that austerity measures are not working is all around us, however politicians insist that the good times are not far away and we should hold our nerve and persevere; there is no alternative, they say.

Research conducted by the Institute for Employment Research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, commissioned by the Resolution Foundation, paints a frightening picture of the economic well-being of those on the bottom half of income distribution in the UK up to the year 2020 (benefit reliant and those in the lower to middle income, LMI, groups). This is what researchers predict:

“Living standards for working-age households in 2020 are likely to be substantially lower for those in the bottom half of income distribution (the benefit-reliant and LMI groups) than they were for households in the same position a decade earlier. Over the 2008 to 2020 period as a whole, the modelling suggests a decline in real terms income of around 5 percent for low to middle income households and around 19 percent for households reliant on benefits. Only higher income households—those above middle income—see income growth, of around two per cent over the period.”

Homelessness: the Destruction of Lives

Adnan Al-Daini

In 1966, I watched Ken Loach’s drama documentary “Cathy come home”. Wikipedia summarizes the play thus:

“The play tells the story of a young couple, Cathy and Reg. Initially their relationship flourishes and they have a child and move into a modern home. When Reg is injured and loses his job, they are evicted by bailiffs, and they face a life of poverty and unemployment, illegally squatting in empty houses and staying in shelters. Finally, Cathy has her children taken away by social services.”

I still remember the play vividly; it had a profound effect on me as it brought my earliest memories as a child of 5 into focus, living in my uncle’s house, his family, my grandmother, and my family (my parents, my sister and me); my family had one tiny room.

My father was desperately looking for work, and eventually found some labouring work in a school in another town 60 miles away. We moved with him, and again had to live in a rented room for another 6 months. That experience made me regard homelessness as one of the greatest horrors that could befall an individual or a family.

Unemployment, Homelessness, and Debt: The Plight of the Young

Adnan Al-Daini

“Unemployment sucks. Youth unemployment sucks even more”

It is not a good time to be young. Our youth are bearing the brunt of the economic depression and its self-defeating solution of austerity and cuts. The future to them looks bleak; unemployment, debt and homelessness in various combinations, or all three beckon. Of course these three scourges (unemployment-debt-homelessness) are linked.

Youth unemployment (16-24 years old) is now 20.7 % in the UK. The average across the EU is 22.4%, with Greece and Spain leading the misery index at 52.8 % and 52.7 % respectively.

A report entitled “Youth unemployment: the crisis we cannot afford” produced by ACEVO (Association of Chief Executive of Voluntary Organizations) puts the human cost thus:

“Unemployment hurts at any age; but for young people, long-term unemployment scars for life. It means lower earnings, more unemployment, [and] more ill health later in life. It means more inequality between rich and poor – because the pain hits the most disadvantaged.”

The report quantifies the financial cost as follows:

“The human misery of youth unemployment is also a time-bomb under the nation’s finances. At its current rates, in 2012 youth unemployment will cost the [British] exchequer £4.8 billion (more than the budget for further education for 16-to-19-year-olds in England) and cost the economy £10.7 billion in lost output. But the costs are not just temporary. The scarring effects of youth unemployment at its current levels will ratchet up further future costs of £2.9 billion per year for the exchequer (equivalent to the entire annual budget for Jobcentre Plus) and £6.3 billion p.a. for the economy in lost output. The net present value of the cost to the Treasury, even looking only a decade ahead, is approximately £28 billion.”

Prescriptive Maths Teaching Impedes Real Understanding

Adnan Al-Daini

Having trashed teaching qualification (QTS)[*] by telling academies that they could appoint teachers without QTS qualifications, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is at it again, this time telling teachers how to teach mathematics.  Whatever next? Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, telling doctors how to treat patients?

The arrogance of politicians, from all parties, when it comes to education is breathtaking. Micromanaging lessons to the extent of compulsory rote learning of the times tables, counting, Roman numerals etc., is a vote of no confidence in the professionalism of teachers that will lower their morale and impact negatively on standards.

Teaching in a school is not for the fainthearted.  I should know, for I taught mathematics in a school, taught engineering in a university and worked in industry.  School teaching was the most demanding, the poorest paid, and the least appreciated, and that was before government interference in the minutiae of education became fashionable.

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