Our Messed Up World…

Right then world. Stop what you’re doing, that’s it, drop everything and listen up. I’ve got just a few complaints. I’m just a little fed up with how awful things are at the moment and I need to get it off my chest.

Firstly and foremostly; the straw which has broken the dam. Anyone in the UK is probably already painfully aware of this. Yesterday a man was killed in Woolwich, London. That’s the simplest way of putting it. This man was a soldier in our armed forces, and was wearing a Help for Heroes t-shirt. That seems to be what singled him out for this horrendous attack. Two men, armed with knives, cleavers and machetes, killed him, then waited by his body, spouting political and religious statements until the police arrived.

Seriously. What the fuck?

Sorry, this isn’t a swearing blog. I’m just so angry and sad that this has happened. I’m sad for the man’s family, friends and colleagues. I’m furious that other members of our armed forces have been advised to cover their uniforms in public, although latest reports suggest that advice is about to be reversed. I have so much respect for our armed forces and for the work they do. The police too, and the fire and ambulance services; all of these people who work not for a profit, but for the good of their country and its people – us. Any attack on them is an attack on the United Kingdom, and I don’t think I’m the only one around taking this a little personally.

The attack in Woolwich has been hailed a terror attack. It’s not like the previous attacks we’ve seen; the bombs at the Boston Marathon, the events of 7/7 and 9/11. These terrorists were just two men, armed with knives. Somehow I find this so much more frightening than the idea of bombs and large-scale attacks. The trouble with terrorists is that it’s not clear who is and who isn’t one; it’s not an entire country, and it’s not an entire religion, it’s a group of people with extreme beliefs and who are willing to go to extreme measures for those beliefs. Extreme measures, which include killing innocent people just because of the job they do or the country they live in. It’s disgusting and it just makes me so angry and exhausted.

To add to the awful events of yesterday, I’ve read comments on the news saying that the ‘English Defence League’ (who I really think ought to stop. Just stop being whatever it is they are and go away) have taken to the streets, including one man being arrested for carrying a knife into a Mosque.

Seriously. What the fuck?

Who takes a knife into a place of prayer? Who thinks that the correct response to militant extremists attacking an innocent person is to send militant extremists out onto the streets with the aim of threatening innocent people? I am English, but I want nothing to do with this so-called Defence League.

Also making me sad and angry at the moment are the happenings in Oklahoma. No terrorists here, but still a world of devastation. The perpetrator was a tornado. We’ve been hearing about a lot of natural disasters lately, and this tornado has added another 90 to the death toll. Unavoidable, people took shelter as and where they could whilst the tornado tore its way through Oklahoma City, hitting the suburban area of Moore particularly hard.

There’s no one to blame for this. No one sat down and planned it; no one decided spur of the moment to go out and release a tornado. It just happened, like Hurricane Sandy last year, and like the earthquake which struck China just last month. And yet even with no one to blame, there is anger that this could happen, that it could happen so quickly, and that it happened in such a densely populated area. The tornado ploughed through a school, killing children. I sat in my car on Tuesday lunchtime, listening to a fire marshall break down as she talked about the recovery work they’re doing and I wanted to cry myself. It’s not fair that these things happen which are so out of anyone’s control and are so damaging to whoever stands in their way.

But what really doesn’t make sense is that, even though we have these natural disasters all over the world, we have earthquakes in Asia and the Middle East, we have hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis, and there are still people bringing it upon themselves to kill other people. There’s more than enough death in this world as it is; no one should be adding more.

So please, people of the planet Earth. How about we all just stop doing what it is we’re doing, and instead of fighting each other, let’s have a go at working together to fix the things we can’t prevent. There’s no need to be killing our soldiers or setting off bombs at public events. No need at all. Gavel!

Discuss…

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Reducing Pregnant Women to Fibbing Children; Why The Smoking Tests at Antenatal Appointments are a Really Bad Idea

It’s been a while now since I had a baby. My youngest is now 13 months old, but I remember all the antenatal appointments during the times that I was pregnant. I had 3 booking in appointments in my time due to the fact that I miscarried at between children. All three appointments were brilliant: relaxed, informative, friendly. I really felt like I connected with my midwife even though it was a different one each time. Trust was established. I felt that I could call any of these women whenever I felt like I needed some support or had any queries. I left the appointments buoyed up with glee and only some of that was pregnancy bloating.

Were I to get pregnant this year and go to a booking in appointment, I have learned, I would be expected to perform a breath test designed to monitor carbon monoxide levels. I would refuse and I’m not the only one.

I am not a smoker, never have been and never intend to be. I was asked at each appointment whether I smoked and explained, as I just have, that I don’t. Tick. Done. Apparently it turns out that pregnant women can’t be trusted. The purported aim of this test is to offer advice and help for the expectant mother to quit smoking, but if the woman wants to quit smoking she will ask for these things. In truth this is designed to root out the liars and badger them until they quit. This quote from NICE explains their reasoning:

“Some pregnant women find it difficult to say that they smoke because the pressure not to smoke during pregnancy is so intense,” 

What’s that now? Some pregnant women find it hard to admit that they smoke because of societal pressures against smoking while pregnant? Well then I’m sure an ordered breath test will make them feel nice and relaxed and ready to talk about quitting.

Look, its not good to smoke during pregnancy. There are a multitude of reasons why smoking is bad for you regardless, and during pregnancy its especially not good for the foetus. If you are pregnant not only is it better if you quit, but surrounding folks ought to as well. I’m looking at you, fathers-to-be. But ultimately it comes down to your body, your choice. If you are a pregnant woman your rights as a human come first. I respect your choice because I’m a decent human being.

The point of the booking in appointment is to fill out the start of the blue folder (in my Trust the folder is blue) and to get onto the system as a being with child. The appointment usually lasts an hour and you can ask questions, find out valuable information and get to know the department who you will know over the next months. I’ve said it before: its about trust. You can’t have trust if you listen to a woman tell you that no she doesn’t smoke and then you insist upon a breath test to make sure she’s not lying. You just can’t. And that’s a bad thing. For women like me, the baby in your uterus will be much wanted. You’ll be happy and excited and want to feel validated for that feeling. Millions of women get pregnant every day, but (especially for your first) you want to feel the most special. You also want to establish that trust thing I keep harping on about.

For women like me in my 3rd pregnancy you have one child, have miscarried once and you’re pregnant again. You are scared. Due to the midwife being sick you are having your booking in appointment at 11 weeks instead of 8. You’ve already had some spotting in this pregnancy and spent some time in A&E thanks to that. You’re scared. Your much wanted second child might not ever become a child. You want to get the booking done so that you can go to the scan booked that afternoon, where it turns out the foetus did not make it past 8 weeks. Once again you answer no to the smoking question. Just imagine if at that moment your midwife insists on a breath test. You’re fragile and vulnerable and suddenly the person claiming to be there for you is treating you like a sneaky liar. Fuck that shit.

For some women, if we want to look at the possible worst case scenario, they are not there because they are having a much wanted baby with a man they love. Let’s imagine the case for hundreds of women in the country. She is pregnant by a man who scares her. She is isolated from her family and her friends have been steadily eroded from her life. She literally feels trapped and being permitted to go to a booking in appointment is about it in terms of freedom. The midwife is a friendly face who is there for advice and support in pregnancy, but she brings up domestic abuse, too. The pregnant woman suddenly has a little spark of hope. Maybe she doesn’t bring it up then, but as the relationship between mother-to-be and midwife grows so does the trust and one day she speaks out. Except that when the pregnant woman says she doesn’t smoke, the midwife brandishes a Breathalyzer  The mother-to-be is snubbed; she is not believed when she says she’s a non-smoker so why the hell would she be believed if she said “my husband hurts me”? Trust is broken right at the start and it’s impossible to build up again.

I can’t see a way in which this test is OK.  Perhaps the end result might be that the mother-to-be quits smoking, but if she truly wanted to quit she would bring it up at the relevent time, right? And if the mother-to-be quits but the father-to-be or anyone else living at the family home does not, then was it worth it? Second hand smoke in a persons home is almost as bad at direct smoke. But wait a second…no-one is suggesting breath testing the father, are they? Nope, this is just for the mother-to-be. I wonder why that could be…perhaps it has something to do with the fact that women are often considered to be nothing other than incubators once they become pregnant (warning on this link due to the possibility of graphic images, although that page is pretty safe).

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Only if you in turn trust us

 

(I must just point out that this has come from NICE guidelines, rather than directly from midwives, who I think do a terrific job under difficult circumstances and I’ve never met a bad one! I’m concerned, however, that their job will be compromised by this legislation, as well as the effect it will have on mothers-to-be.)

Let Kids Be Kids

I woke up this morning and checked my e-mail, checked my facebook, then had a look at the BBC news webpage in case something had happened overnight that I would need to be aware of.

What I found was the following headline;

Age of consent should be 13, says barrister

The barrister in question, one Barbara Hewson, specialises in public and administrative law; human rights and civil liberties; and professional discipline and regulatory law. She lists her interests as the following; ‘abortion rights, autonomy, childbirth, civil liberties, due process, privacy’. And yet I almost don’t need to know any of that. My entire view of this woman, whom I had previously never heard of, is now tainted by an article she wrote for online magazine Spiked.

Hewson’s article does not make for very pleasant reading. Her attitude is awful as she stomps eloquently from the 1880s Social Purity movement, when the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16, to the last few decades and revelations of what was happening at the BBC and, I believe, more widely spread. I could easily give a strongly worded retort to each sentence in her article, but I will restrict myself to just a few.

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

This is Hewson’s opening line. This pretty much sets the tone for the entire article. It’s disgusting, especially when you consider that this is coming from a barrister; from a woman whose job it is to uphold the law, to ensure justice is done. She seems to be missing the major facts; that these ‘old men’ being ‘persecuted’ are actually suspects of rape and sexual assault who are being questioned and/or arrested for actual crimes which happened to actual people. Actual young, unwilling girls. This is not persecution – there are no pitchfork-wielding mobs traversing the streets and baying for blood; this is an attempt at justice.

In the 1880s, the Social Purity movement repeatedly tried to increase the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, despite parliament’s resistance. At that time, puberty for girls was at age 15 (now it is 10).

The second sentence in this quote was where I am startled at Hewson’s attempt to twist logic and factual accuracy to make her point. The fact is that, on average, puberty for girls in the 21st Century begins at 10 or 11 and finishes by 15 or 16. Thus the age of consent standing at 16 makes sense. There is a school of thought that puberty in girls happens earlier now than it did in the 19th Century – this would make sense; puberty is triggered by how physically capable a girl’s body is of carrying a child – 150 years ago girls would have been thinner, possibly weaker or more unhealthy, and so their bodies would not change so early. What these facts say to me is not that the age of consent should lower as the average age of puberty has, but in fact that the law change of the 1880s was much needed, and did not go far enough to protect the girls of the time.
(‘Behavioural Endocrinology’, edited by Jill B Becker provides some scientific back up for the above statements.)

It is depressing, but true, that many reforms introduced in the name of child protection involve sweeping attacks on fundamental Anglo-American legal rights and safeguards, such as the presumption of innocence.

In a way I don’t disagree with this quote. It follows a strangely-worded rant about how the NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police, in a report on Operation Yewtree and, in particular, Jimmy Savile’s crimes, are calling the accusers ‘victims’ rather than ‘complainants’. It’s a fairly major step in terms of semantics.
I do firmly believe in the adage ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’, and this is a place where I really struggle. It’s said that one of the main reasons victims of rape or sexual abuse don’t come forward is because they are afraid they won’t be believed. They are ‘alleged victims’ and ‘complainants’, and in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ way of thinking there was no rape or abuse until a court of law has proved that it happened. This doesn’t seem right, but at the same time I can’t in good conscience advocate the switch around to ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’. To me, the whole thing is so dangerously convoluted I don’t think I’ll work my thoughts out today, so I’m not going to dwell too long on it. What I am going to do is distract you with a subject change, then continue my reading of Hewson’s article. Charli has much clearer views on this issue, so I’ll eagerly await her comment, putting forth her better-structured opinions!
Mumsnet have a campaign entitled ‘We Believe You’. This campaign exists to support victims of rape and to break down rape myths.

Touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt, are not remotely comparable to the horrors of the Ealing Vicarage assaults and gang rape, or the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders, both dating from 1986. Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.

I guess I’ve lost touch with reality… sexual assault on anyone (regardless of gender or age) is, in my eyes, a major crime. Arguably it is the fore-runner to rape and gang-rape, if we’re going to simplify things to a hierarchy of criminal activity. To say to a child or teenager ‘don’t make a fuss dear, it was only a little bit of groping – at least he didn’t rape you’ is tantamount to saying ‘you’re a sexual object for men to do with as they wish; let go of whatever self-worth you had and accept the abuse. The fact that you don’t want it to happen is irrelevant.’ I am not cool with that. I am incredibly not cool with that. I, and every man, woman and child on this earth has the right not to be sexualised against their will.

As for Hewson’s ‘regrettable necessities’, let’s take a look at them one by one…

It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest.

She’s talking about Operation Yewtree… I’m pretty sure it does have something to do with justice. Children have been assaulted, have lived their lives with this hanging over them, afraid to come forward and speak against a tv star. Undoubtedly their lives have been affected by what happened to them and they bloody well deserve justice. It doesn’t undo what happened to them, but it’s the right thing. Lessons have to be learnt from the things that were allowed to happen; those criminals still alive need to be brought to justice for the crimes they committed (if proven by a court of law they actually happened, but that’s what the justice system is for.)

Adults and law-enforcement agencies must stop fetishising victimhood. Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.

I do think people wear their ‘victimhood’ as a shield at times, but having never been a victim of that nature of crime I can’t possibly say I wouldn’t do the same. Making today’s yougnsters responsible for protecting themselves against the unwanted attentions of people in positions of power, on the other hand, is preposterous. How is the molestation of a 9 year old down to the child to prevent rather than the molester? Children should be aware that there are some bad people in the world, but they shouldn’t have to live in fear and paranoia. There should be no ‘compromising situations’. Celebrities should not be allowed to use their position to shame/intimidate children into being abused and remaining quiet about it.

As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are: remove complainant anonymity;

…and force more victims to not report their assault/rape for fear of repercussions? This is such a dangerous suggestion, more likely to allow crimes like those of Jimmy Savile and associates to remain hidden than to do anyone any good.

introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions;

Just because a crime happened 20 years ago does not make it any less of a crime today. Speak to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster. Sexual abuse is such an awful, life-affecting thing to be put through, it can take the victims a long time to come to terms with what happened to them. As much as I would wish all victims could report it as soon as it’s happened, realistically this does not and will not happen.

and reduce the age of consent to 13.

No. Just no. As I wrote at the top – the average girl does not reach sexual maturity until 15 or 16, boys tend to be a year behind. Allowing/encouraging sexual activity to happen at 13 (the average age of a girl’s first period and a boy’s first ejaculation, and thus the age the average child is able to make a baby) is just madness. At 13, most children are simply not ready for the complications that come with sex; family planning, STDs, what is and isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ (horribly vague terms, I know, but this isn’t the place to talk about what’s wrong or right between consensual adult partners…)

To conclude; Barbara Hewson’s article represents one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve seen in a long time – her thoughts and ideals just strike me as unimaginably wrong, and I can’t help but to wonder whether she has a 13 year old daughter.

Let children grow up in their own time. Let them reach adulthood (be that 16 or 18 – I’m still unsure) in their own time, and for pity’s sake protect them from predators. Gavel!

Discuss…

The Right To A Peaceful Protest

For those of you who have been living under a rock over the past week, I can tell you that Margaret Thatcher died on the 8th of April 2013. Her funeral will be held on the 17th (that’s my fellow Gavellers birthday, fact fans!) In accordance with her wishes she will not be having a state funeral; instead she will be having a ceremonial funeral.

Call it what you like, it’s still costing £10m.

"I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand 'I have a problem, it is the government's job to cope with it!' or 'I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!'; 'I am homeless, the government must house me!' and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?  "There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.  "It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations"

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’; ‘I am homeless, the government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?
“There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.
“It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations”

And that is an issue for many people. Our current government like to tell us that we must make cuts to national, necessary budgets such as the NHS, social care and local government (incidenatally where Maggie got her first taste of poltics as her father was a local councillor) yet somehow the Tories have managed to find a spare £10m lying around to spend on a funeral. What were they doing, en masse sofa checking? Did they all save their coppers and take them down to the bank in those little plastic bags? Did they all sell some stuff on eBay?

No, this money is coming from us, the tax payers.

I have nothing against using public money to fund funerals in certain cases. If a body goes unclaimed or if the family just don’t have the money to spare for a funeral then a modest burial provided by the state seems more than fair. But that’s not the case for the Thatchers, now, is it? Mrs Thatchers house is worth £6m, although it is owned by a business with links to 3 offshore accounts, leading to speculation that it is part of a grand scheme to avoid inheritance tax. That aside, my point is that we really shouldn’t be spending this money.

This leads me onto my main point: the right to protest. I am, unsurprisingly, not alone in feeling that this is not ok. Several protests have sprung up online to do with this funeral. In one case, groups of people have united to choose to turn their backs on the funeral procession as it winds through London. This has already been granted approval by Met Police. I am 100% behind this movement for this reason: the right to a peaceful protest. This will be a very simple protest, but it will speak volumes and will in no way harm the people who are there to pay their respects. Perfect!

There are also petitions online to protest against public money being used for the funeral which I also back.

Another form of protest has come about in the form of using the Radio 1 weekly charts to try to play the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” from the musical The Wizard of Oz. The BBC spoke last week about their decision to play a 5 second clip of the song, should it reach number 1 (traditionally played in full regardless of the song choice) along with a news item to explain the reason for the song and for its short play. I am not a huge fan of the BBC lately, but I have to admit that I agreed with their stance. Banning the song as some members of parliament shouted for would be a massive censorship and utterly wrong. Playing a clip with explanations of why the song was voted for and why Mrs Thatcher incited such division in the country made much more sense. As it happens the song reached number 2 in the charts.

Look, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes peaceful won’t cut it. Sometimes you have to be out on the streets making your voice heard and to fight back if you are silenced. Sometimes that is the neccessary way to overthrow facism and dictators and cruelty and oppression. Sometimes you have to fight. But this is not one of those times. Fighting in the street cannot change anything here: the woman is dead and her legacy is over. She was PM for three terms starting in 1979 and ending in 1990. We can’t change what she did in those times. Protesting about how much hate she invoked won’t do anything. But what we can argue against is the reckless spending of public money for a woman who’s estate and surviving family can easily afford to pay double that is something we can do and it’s something I personally think we should fight for.

So I say do not throw public money away on a funeral for Mrs Thatcher when we are being told that cuts must be made against the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, because that is simply not what that money is there for. Gavel!

Discuss…

Not so ‘Grand’ National

I was going to write about something else this week – got halfway through writing it and my internet fell apart yesterday, so I confess I gave up. Today I tried to get back into that frame of mind, but couldn’t as there’s something else on my mind. Apologies for the lateness and shortness!

So far this year 27 horses have died as part of the sport of horse racing.

Twenty seven horses.

This shocked me. I knew a couple died at the Grand National last year, and with the Grand National looming, was wondering how many horses have to die this year or next year or the year after before people will start to see how hideous a sport this is. But twenty seven horses dead in the space of just over three months; that’s roughly two a week. How is that ok?

Now, I’m not against working animals. I’m not against sports involving animals. Heck, I race my ferrets – we get people to bet on them and we make money (yes, it’s for charity, but I’m not against people doing it for personal gain.) The difference between my ferret racing and the current world of horse racing is fairly huge. My ferrets are first and foremost my pets. They race because they enjoy it; if they don’t want to do it then they don’t have to, and if they repeatedly don’t want to do it then I don’t enter them into the races. My ferrets don’t run with a whip-wielding passenger. My ferrets never have to be given oxygen at the end of a race because they’ve been raced half to death.

My ferrets don’t die in the name of human entertainment.

That all said, even if the Grand National was made safer to the point where there were no deaths and the horses weren’t in respiratory distress at the end of the day I still wouldn’t support it (although I’d be a bit less disgusted by the whole thing).

My issue is that the horses running in the horse races that take place around the country aren’t, in my opinion, real horses. They’ve been taken and messed about with; their genetics have been altered. By real horses I mean the sturdy creatures you’ll find at your local riding school, the multi-coloured gypsy horses pulling traps along the roads near some travellers’ camps and the beautiful heavy horses with their plate-sized feet. Racehorses are extreme versions of these wonderful animals; they’re thinner and taller and more skittish. The most amazing fact I’ve found out about them is that their ankle bones are thinner than a person’s wrist.

Just think about that. Something the size of your wrist, well, four somethings that size holding up an entire horse plus the person on top. Now think of those four ankles running at high speed, jumping over fences.

In fact, think of forty tall, thin, skittish almost-horses jostling for position as they leap over fences, unable to see what’s on the other side. Is it any wonder there are so many deaths. I’m trying not to use emotive language, and believe me I could spout so much vitriol about this subject, but I’m really trying to be reasonable. For something a little stronger, go see what PETA think. I would enjoy horse racing if the main focus was horse-welfare, just as I would enjoy Crufts if it was more about dog welfare than conforming to unnatural breed standards. Horse racing is made dangerous because the way of breeding and training a fast horse is dangerous. These animals are pushed beyond their capability; the traits favoured; height, weight, speed, are not traits which would exhibit in a herd of wild horses.

There are many arguments for horse racing; the whips don’t hurt and there are rules on when they can be used, they’re making the courses safer, horses enjoy running. I have no doubt about the last one; horses probably do enjoy running about in a paddock when their legs haven’t been bred to be long, spindly and easily broken. When put into a stampede situation they probably don’t love it quite so much…

I’m not involved in horse racing. With the exception of random equine adventures I really don’t have much interaction with horses. But then I don’t meet many rhinos and I’m angered by stories of poachers going after them for their horns. I’m going to need a lot of proof that horse racing isn’t a cruel sport; starting off with an end to horses dying on the track. Gavel!

Discuss…

How to Give The Housing Market a Boost in 3 Easy Steps (without risking another global catastophe))

So, the Budget 2013 was announced recently and although I don’t want to go into the whole thing as I’m a busy woman and I don’t have time to list all the reasons I can’t stand George Osbourne I do want to address the house buying stuff it detailed. That being said I do want to subtly get across my feelings on dear old George, so to save time I will use one or two pictures like the one below. im-with-stupid-300x251Anyway, onto house buying. Buying a house is a daunting and difficult thing to do if you want to be considered a Proper Grown-Up. I rent currently and have been renting for 7 years come the 1st of April. I have been eager to buy my own place, but it’s not been possible. Part of the reason house buying, especially for first time buyers, is such a challenge is because we have to drum up the funds for a deposit worth a certain percentage of the house’ value. Before my daughter was born there was the option of saving, but then there was time out of work for redundancies and so forth, plus all those other things that eat your money like vehicles. Ideally my then boyfriend and I should have stayed at home and saved our incomes to pool our resources for a deposit, but hey, we were 20 and 21 and I had already lived away at university and we were adults and we wanted to make our own home and basically we were, like, totally over living at home, know what I mean?

This brings me to point the first on my threefold list: Deposits. Hey, George? Want to stimulate the housing market and encourage folks to buy their own homes? Great! The Budget has announced two new schemes to help. One of them sort of already exists, but don’t tell George.

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This is the Help To Buy scheme and is pretty similar to the First Buy  and New Buy schemes already in place for first time buyers for new build homes. You raise a smaller deposit (from 4%) than most mortgage companies require, then the Goverment assists you buy loaning you another percentage (up to 20%) and then boom! That New Build house is yours.

My alternative: Why not do away with deposits in the first place? Deposits, no matter the percentage, in no way prove whether or not you can afford monthly mortgage payments. Purely and simply they exist to make the banks feel better about handing over vast sums of money to Joe Bloggs. I suppose I see the logic in it, but these aren’t loans given so that Joe Bloggs can buy a jet pack or hire a tent and have Circe de Soleil perform for his kids every Saturday for a month. This is so people can buy houses. Homes, if you will. And you know what? I know that the Tories and certain newspapers who shall remain nameless would LOVE to convince us all that all our money problems were the fault of those feckless scroungers on benefits who are probably also immigrants, it was kind of more to do with banks. Who we, the tax payers, “bailed out”. So maybe, just maybe, those banks could grant us some trust and relax a little bit on mortgages. I’m not saying they should just hand out mortgages without doing any checks. I would be very happy to show the mortgage lender my last few years bank statements that show how much I’ve been paying for my rent and equally happy to sit down with them and work out what I can afford to pay each month based on my income and current bank of England rates and perfectly willing to tell them my age so that we can project how long I’m likely to be in employment and therefore how long a length of time I could realistically pay off a mortgage loan. I can meet them half way, but please don’t expect me to save a deposit, because I work part time and have two children in childcare so I got stuff to pay for.

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Onto point number 2: the second part of Georges plan to get folks a’buying is more worrying. A lot more worrying. Remember how I was all “I’m not saying they should just hand out mortgages without doing any checks”? Well it’s not quite that bad, but there is a scheme announced in the Budget that will essentially force the hand of the mortgage providers buy offering to guarantee mortgages for those who would otherwise be denied such a loan. It will run for three years and cannot possibly be a bad idea.

My alternative: I briefly mentioned the global crisis earlier in this article and I’d like to talk a little bit more about it because history may well be about to repeat itself. My husband and I very nearly bought a house once before. It was before we were married and before kids and we had a deposit of 5% graciously loaned to us by my paternal grandparents. We had a mortgage agreed and found a house. And then…it went a bit wrong. The bank started to get shifty and suddenly went incommunicado with us. The estate agents got arsey with us as the sellers were probably getting arsey with them and eventually we heard the truth: our deposit amount was no good any more. It wasn’t just us: it was happening everywhere. The Great Recession had begun. Oh, did I mention this all happend in the first few months of 2008?

The issue then was that mortgage providers were merrily doling out mortgages to anyone who asked nicely and house prices were rising sharply. And what do they say? What goes up…

Basically everything crashed a little bit. It sucked. We’re still very much feeling the effects now. And dear old George thinks that doing the exact same thing as occured before the housing bubble burst will save the economy.

george-osborne-s-hms-britain-a-sinking-ship-689096159-94461

“I have every confidence in this ship”

The Final Point: Ok, so his fool proof plan was actually two fold, but there’s one more thing I’d like to address. The schemes that already exist to help folks buying currently only help first time buyers buying new builds. The new schemes have expanded on that to help buyers who are stuck where they are to move and also applies to existing houses (I don’t want to call them Old Builds, but basically houses that haven’t been newly built). This is good. So far I have no issues. What has been glossed over for the time being is how the scheme applies to second home buyers or property developers.

My alternative: It’s controversial, but stick with me a moment. I have grown up in villages where residents grow up and have to move away from their community into cheaper towns as they cannot afford to live in their home village. I have seen property prices rise because houses on a street have suddenly gotten particularly expensive. You know why this is? It’s because some people can afford to buy more than one home, so they either buy a big family home in the country and commute to the city to stay Monday to Friday in a crash pad or they have the family home in the city, but spend Friday evening to Sunday and various holiday weeks in second homes in the country. Do you know what some people do for a living? They buy cheap houses, sometimes falling down houses, that they do up and make all fancy for as little as possible so that it gets valued much higher than they bought it and then they sell it for a profit.

Both of these types of people helped to cause the housing bubble, pushing prices up. It wasn’t just them; the banks helped. But they were complicit. Georges schemes have said nothing about these people, so it stands to reason that they are as yet included in these schemes and thus will benefit from the cuts. Yay them, sad for the rest of us.

...except the rich

…except the rich

My conclusion and proposal: George has said that his scheme should run for 3 years, so I shall stick to that template. How about for 3 years, as a test, we get rid of deposits, offer help and support to get everyone and anyone who wants to on the housing ladder in new and older buildings (although not with risky loans as it would be nice to avoid another recession) and we put a stop on buying a second home or house to let/do up and sell for profit? We focus on getting those who want to own their own property or who want to move out of their current home where they want to be. Those who have their own homes and don’t want to move will be unaffected. Those who want to buy a second or third home won’t be able to and property developers will just have to make do with playing with dolls houses instead. Just for 3 years. Just to see what happens.

Gavel!

Discuss…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bias in the Media; a Study of 3 Stories and the Issues I Found with Each One

As the title suggests I have taken issue with 3 seperate news stories from the UK and North America and want to explore this here.

Let’s start with Steubenville.

For those of you who don’t know, two young men aged 16 and 17 were recently convicted of raping a girl of 16 in Steubenville, Ohio. Not content with raping her, they carried her unconcious body around in a car and dragged her to parties, at which they also sexually assaulted her (in addition to the rapes), photographed her and even urinated on her. The two boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, have been found deliquent, which is essentially Ohio’s version of guilty for under-18s and they have been sentenced to a year in prison, although I am lead to believe that they could remain in prison beyond that year. It is a triumph for this poor girl who was abused so horribly and a wider triumph for rape victims everywhere: the boys are big-shot football heroes for their school in Steubenville and it can be notoriously difficult to obtain convictions for sports stars, even those who have yet to achieve nationwide fame. When the verdict was delivered the boys broke down in tears. And this was what CNN chose to focus on when they reported on the trial:

“a 16 year old, sobbing in court…what is the lasting effect of two young [men] being guilty in juvenile court of rape essentially?”

“incredibly difficult to watch as these two young men who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students literally watched as they believed their life fell apart”

“lives are destroyed…the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders…will haunt them for the rest of their lives”

Not one word about the victim. Not one word about how her life was destroyed or even affected by what had happened to her. What about her future? What about the fact that this attack will potentially haunt her for the rest of her life? What about the tears she cried?

The focus was entirely on these poor young men who had such high hopes for the future, and their lives had been ruined. Not once did any of their reporters comment on the fact that they had brought this upon themselves and perhaps other young men would think twice about ruining their futures in seeing these “star football players” and “very good students” get the judgement they deserved when they were found delinquent.

There is a petition here calling for CNN to apologise on air to the victim for their dreadful reporting of the situation and focus on the two boys, or the two rapists and registered sex offenders, if you want to be blunt.

 

My next gripe is one with our very own BBC, or rather with their hip and trendy branch of news aimed at teenagers and 18-24 year olds, Newsbeat. A study has been published by the DPP detailing the fact that false rape allegations are in fact quite rare, certainly much rarer than actual rapes. This is great news as one of the biggest setbacks for campaigns against violence against women and girls is the myths surrounding rape, of which the myth that most rape accusations are lies and falsehoods plays a huge role. This myth is so ingrained into our collective societal psyche that women are sometimes advised by the police to rethink their accusations when they pluck up the courage to report them. And one of the most common reasons for women not reporting the crime is a fear of not being believed. And let’s not forget that there is a very real threat that asking to retract a rape accusation can lead to the victims imprisonment, but hey, maybe she was just unlucky enough to have been raped first, then treated so badly by the people who were supposed to help her.

Back to Newsbeat. Rather than report on the study without bias, they chose to mention it under a headline screaming “False rape claims ‘devastating’ say wrongly accused”. They went on to describe the occurance as common, although after pressure they did change the word to unusual. I’m not entirely sure how they managed to confuse the word rare, as used by Keir Starmer, QC, who headed the study, with common, but at least they did change it. I personally complained about the article, citing bias and mis-reporting as my reasoning and I did receive a reply (the same on anyone who complained received I later learned) from Rod McKenzie, editor of Newsbeat. In the reply he wrote that the story had been commissioned to focus on the facts of being falsely accused as their target audience claimed to have a great fear of this happening to them, and that “to help contextualise the story we reported on a 17-month study carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service which set out to establish how common such false rape allegations were.” The fact that the study proved that false accusations are incredibly rare compared with accusations and even convictions of rape seemed to pass them by. Rather than using the study to say “hey teenagers and 18-24 year old guys who are scared that they will be accused of rape, worry not! It turns out women and girls aren’t going around lying about it constantly, like we once believed. Look, these figures show its really rare and in fact in those figures there are further breakdowns in terms of the gender of the accuser and the mental health of the accuser and hey, included in these findings are even accusations where the victim couldn’t identify her attacker, so rather than lying, she just couldn’t accuse accurately. Isn’t it great? Oh, and women and girls in the same age bracket who are afraid that if they are raped or sexually assaulted they won’t be believed if they go to the police, don’t sweat it. Chances are you’ll be telling the truth so we’ll believe you after all. Isn’t it a wonderful study and can’t we now move past this now broken down rape myth and focus on stopping this hideous crime from happening at all?” they chose to focus entirely on the very few men who are falsely accused every year and how awful it was for them.

Don’t get me wrong; being falsely accused of any crime is a crime in itself if done deliberately and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It must indeed be devastating and I’m sorry for anyone who has had it happen to them. But the timing of Newsbeats apparently long-comissioned story was very bad indeed and their manipulation of the facts was an insult to everyone who worked on the 17 month long study to make this report. For once we had some great news with regards to rape. I will keep harping on about it, but rape myths are a huge barrier to overcome and this one is a big one. Mumsnet have started a campaign simply entitled We Believe You to raise awareness about the truth about rape. Isn’t the name telling? We Believe You. I cannot say for sure if I would report a rape if it happened to me and I have the greatest respect for anyone who does. Certainly I have never reported a sexual assault, not even when the assault occured on school premises did I even tell a teacher. The BBC had a chance, as did every media outlet around, to report some good news about rape statistics. To reassure both sexes that false accusations are rarer than the myth would have us believe. And the BBC chose to stick their fingers in their ears and shut their eyes to ignore the findings in order to scaremonger.

 

Finally, we have the tragic tale of Lucy Meadows and I have another petition for your interest. This one calls for the Daily Mail to fire Richard Littlejohn after he wrote a hate-filled, biased article in the paper, against Nathan Upton, a transgender teacher. This was a total non-news worthy story. Nathan Upton made the courageous decision to alter his lifestyle and gender and this was seen as fair game to Richard Littlejohn. I have a link to the story in the DM, although you will see that it was edited on the 12th of March 2013 after being published on the 19th of December last year. The facts are that the C of E school in Lancashire announced via a newsletter that “Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in  his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman. After the Christmas break, she will return  to work as Miss Meadows.” Let me now just point out how fantastically supportive the school appeared to be and how lucky Lucy Meadows was to be working in such a tolerant place. I would be thrilled to send my children to such a school.

The DM latched onto the minority of parents who were bigoted concerned about the impact of this on their children and clearly didn’t see this as a fantastic oppotunity to teach about acceptance and everyone’s right to choose for their own lives. Naturally that would be too much to ask for the Daily Mail. Sadly however, this story prompted a media invasion into Lucys life and ultimately Lucy took her own life earlier this week. She had only been officially living as a woman for 3 months.

Now, it’s not the DMs fault that this story was picked up and became such an invasive beast…but then again…was it any of their business to pry into Lucys life like they did? How exactly was the story important enough to publish in a national newspaper? Lucy Meadows made a choice for her life and that was that. No one was harmed by her choice. She wasn’t trying to attract media attention. She was trying to live her life as she felt it needed to be lived. The school was supportive. A few parents weren’t happy, but there will always be small minded fools who cannot see past their own issues. Yet Richard Littlejohn chose to write a horrible piece about her, practically crying out “won’t somebody please think of the children?!” Children, the most universally tolerant beings in the human race until they get their parents views rubbing off on them. Richard Littlejohn could learn a lot from them.

 

My point this week (and I’m sorry its taken me so long to get to it) is that the media is a powerful tool. It does so much more than report on events, it directs us how to feel, which is why it is so important to read around in my opinion. I’ve tried to cram as many news outlets into this article as possible to try to be as fair as possible. In the case of CNN and Steubenville, this was rape apologising at its most dire. The BBC was a case of bias due to the angle they were driving at and a refusal to admit to a rape myth being just that. And the Daily Mail case was pure bigotry dressed up as concerned reporting and lead, directly or indirectly, to a womans suicide. I’m all for freedom of the press, but would the press please remember that they have an obligation to the public to report as fairly and without bias or personal views as possible. Here I have presented three cases of seriously bad reporting, due to the aforementioned obligations. Gavel!

Discuss…

 

 

*Please note that I do not believe in evil as a concept, so my tongue is firmly in my cheek when I use this turn of phrase.

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