Makes no difference who you are?

8 October, 2011

For ages, in idle moments, I’ve amused myself by wondering whether one of Disney’s self-declared truths holds up to scrutiny: when you wish upon a star, does it in fact make no difference who you are?

Obviously, if every child wished for a pony, it’s not random chance that dictates which children will get one: it’s privilege. But do chidren (let’ stick to chidren for now) tend to wish for the same things, no matter who they are? Or are their dreams constrained by their circumstances? Will those for whom a sqare meal is a just-feasible luxury wish for that, while the well-fed wish for toys? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would seem to predict that, yes, aspiration is progressive rather than absolute. Until you are fed, you don’t feel the need for shelter so keenly. Until you are respected by others, you aren’t going to be motivated towards your full creativity.

But research published this week indicates otherwise. Poor 13-year-olds are just as likely as rich ones to aspire to go to university, despite that not being an aim they see others who share their experiences achieving, and despite their often not having other Maslowian pre-requisites for seeking self-actualisation*. What stops those aspiring graduates from poor families from achieving their dreams is lack of a “clear understanding of how to reach their goals”, leading more to fall away at each of the hurdles.

So there you go – when you wish upon a star, it does make a difference who you are. If your wish is for a cap and gown, the stars shine brighter on you if your parents have worn one, or if your parents can help you to get one debt-free.

It’s not poverty of aspiration. It’s poverty of example, expectation and education. As the summary to the research itself says, “policy to increase social mobility needs to go beyond assumptions about certain communities having low aspirations – it needs to tackle barriers to fulfilling them.”

Interestingly, the Joseph Rowntree research found that the likelihood of sharing high aspirations was greatest among teenagers in economically mixed environments, particularly schools. Comprehensive education really does have a measurable positive effect for poorer kids. So we need to defend comprehensive education, particularly comprehensives drawing from an economically mixed catchment. Then we need to resource and equip schools, families and communities to recognise academic and employment ambition and inform and educate young people about how to achieve it. Well, that’s straightforward. Isn’t it?

Obviously security, “morality”, family ties and intimacy are things that poor families can supply just as well as any other, but some of Maslow’s other base-of-pyramid needs are less evenly spread across layers of privilege.


Why do you vote Green?

9 November, 2010

If you do, of course. I raise the question because at Scottish Green Party conference this past weekend, we were discussing who should get to decide whether we accepted a coalition deal. Conference, after a lively discussion which is continuing over here on Bright Green Scotland, we decided that we wanted both the Party’s National Council and an EGM open to all members to endorse any coalition deal.

I spoke up (no, really, try and pretend to be surprised) for the motion, because I think that, fundamentally, going into a coalition, particularly as a junior partner which, realistically, is the most likely for us Greens right now, means breaking election pledges, and that is something that needs serious consideration from people who aren’t steeped in the discussions with other parties, hopped up on the heady air of the political bubble.

Councillor Martin Ford, however, takes the other view, and takes it forcefully. I hope I’m paraphrasing him reasonably* when I say that his point was that voters vote for candidates expecting them to seize and use power to the maximum, and that turning down an offer of coalition was a betrayal of what voters want when they vote for us.

And it made me think: really? When people vote for Greens, particularly in Scotland where we have small (at the moment!) numbers on councils and in the Scottish Parliament, what do they think is going to happen to their vote?

I think it’s safe to say that, while Green voters may well dream of a Green majority government, it’s not in the sole hope of that happening that they entrust their votes to us. Something other than (short of?) government is clearly an aspiration worth voting for, too. Must that be to be as close to the centres of power as possible? What’s it worth laying aside to have a finger in that pie?

To me, the other option is more persuasive. We don’t have all-or-nothing presidential government. A vote that is unlikely to contribute to electing the First Minister is not a wasted vote in a Parliamentary (or council) system. MSPs from a non-governing party can develop and introduce legislation, affect policy, lead rebellions. And, of course, do the consituency/ case work that is the less public side of being a representative.

Formal arrangements short of coalition, such as “confidence and supply” are another way to influence Government without, quite, being part of it. But this isn’t so much about what’s possible as what people want when they cast their vote.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the ConDem coalition. Did most of the people who voted LibDem in May this year think that their vote would lead to the implementation of most Tory election pledges? I think probably not. Do most of those people think those Tory policies are a price worth paying for the concessions made to the LibDems? I will not even try to get inside the mind of a LibDem voter, but I think it’s certainly not a definite “yes”.

So, people who vote Green, or, I suppose, for other parties unlikely to form a majority government, what do you think you’re voting for? Good people whom you trust, as close to the heart of power as they can get? For the manifesto policies to be implemented? How? For meaningful opposition to other parties you disagree with? For good local representation?

What’s in a vote? I think if we asked everyone to write on their ballot papers what hopes, dreams and dreads they were putting into that simple cross or row of numbers, we’d get as many answers as papers. But I also think it’s a question we need to ask, as we face a future where we will probably have chances to influence government in any number of ways.

*James thinks I have overstated MF’s views, by the way, and not mentioned that he’d rule out a lot of coalitions.

Who benefits?

4 October, 2010

I’m not sure how I feel about higher rate taxpayers losing Child Benefit in general. As a believer in Citizens Income, universal benefit is a good thing. However, the people complaining that a household income of £44,000 (the lowest possible – this would be for a single-income household) is “just getting by”, as someone on BBC Radio 4 news did earlier today, are wrong. It’s twice the national average income, therefore, logically, the average two-income household earns only that much. And they’re insulting the millions of families who get by on far less. Mine, for a start, and we do far better than “get by”.

However, what I’m sure of is that this is an attack on women, and on the way the welfare state can seek to support their empowerment.

It was a big deal when it was decided that CB would, by default, be paid to the child’s mother. It was, probably, the biggest single act of redistribution of income within households that the welfare state has ever achieved. Now, CB will be withdrawn based on household income, and not paid to women who, as non-employed mothers, have no other income in their own name. That is a regression, a typically Tory acceptance of the traditional macro-economic view that everyone in a household has equal access to the household’s money. That is not true. There are many men who control their female partners by controlling their access to money, and non-employed mothers are among the most vulnerable. (And there are people in all other gender combinations of relationships in the same position, but typically it’s the former.)

So the Tories have decided that child benefit does not belong to the mother by default, but to the household. A backward step for mothers. We need to watch this government like a hawk: they do not understand gender, and they do not care to improve their understanding.

This is just a quickie post – also have a look at Caroline Crampton in the New Statesman on the implications for the National Insurance gap for stay-at-home parents

Job-sharing MPs? Yes please.

10 September, 2010

(Just a note – I love my RebelRaising identity, but have lots to say about things other than parenting, so I’ve decided to revive this blog for all of those things. Parenting, (green, feminist, radical) politics, and possibly some knitting.)

This post started as a comment to Stephen Glenn on this post, entitled “Is Job Sharing MPs Idea Sexist?”. Green Party of England and Wales leader Caroline Lucas has proposed that MPs be able to jobshare. Stephen argues that it’s retrograde to suggest that “offering women part-time jobs” is the best way to retain/ get talented women into Parliament(s). So here’s what started as a comment to that.

What a load of nonsense. Other people with caseloads job-share all the time – doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers. And MPs already have constituency workers who form part of the team on constituency cases; ministers likewise have civil servants in their teams (some of whom might be job-sharing). If it would be completely impossible for someone else to take over your job if you fell under a bus, you’re doing your job wrong.

As for “demeaning to women”, what’s demeaning to women is saying that, because we have the Equal Pay Act, we should just pull ourselves together and participate in the all-hours, all-consuming job world, when the reality is that it is still women who do most of the household and childcare work. It might be nice if this were not the case (though in my two-female-adults household, I’m not sure what the other options are, apart from maybehiring a houseboy), but I don’t see why we should be willing to wait for utopia before women can have tolerable lives as parliamentarians. And what is demeaning to both men and women who want a life alongside work is to suggest that this doesn’t have the potential to make them people with richer experience, and hence better representatives of their constituents.

Two problems: parliaments demand unreasonable things from their members; and women are, on average, dispropotioantely unable to meet those unreasonable demands.

Personally, I think that even if job-sharing were only a part-time stop-gap to get women able to meet the demands of an M(S)P job until we reach that glorious utopia where everything is equal, it would be worth doing. Saying “but there shouldn’t be sexism, so we won’t do anything to address its real effects here and now” is just nonsense.

But more importantly, I think, why should it be the business of women and others who are unwilling to give up their lives to this all-consuming job to “get over it” and do so? Isn’t there a problem with Parliament(s) if standing for them is something ordinary folks with family commitments and hobbies cannot consider? Doesn’t it lead to a Parliament full of weirdos and anoraks? Now, I’m both a weirdo and an anorak myself at times, but even if I could get and afford someone else to mind my kids all day every day, evenings and weekends as well, I would actually not want to do that. But I think I’d be a pretty good representative, both in Parliament and as a caseworker and in all those other things M(S)Ps do. You might disagree (and indeed, the people of Edinburgh North and Leith did disagree this May, placing me a (fairly respectable) 5th. Love y’all anyway.) but surely you can think of someone who would?

Let’s release the Parliamentary potential of a much wider part of society – disproportionately but not exclusively women. Support Caroline Lucas’s proposals.