Cuba: Open For Business


Crimson Chevrolets line ramshackle streets. Salsa blares, dominos slam. Life’s trials and tribulations play out on the promenade. The gaze of Fidel’s eyes and the scent of tobacco leaf follow you wherever you go. Welcome to Cuba. Opulent yet decaying, dazzling yet shabby, hedonistic yet humble, it is an island of contradictions. Transported from the Cuba of postcards to the real thing a few months ago, I was struck by the movie set feel of the place. Propped up like a film backdrop, Havana’s grandiose colonial buildings are little more than ghostly facades. But all this is quickly changing. Thanks to American dollars, crumbling buildings on Havana’s seafront are being transformed into shiny, polished hotels. Read edited version on the London Review Of Books…


International orphans: why is Britain turning away North Korean asylum seekers?


As time goes by, Britain’s attitude towards North Korea becomes increasingly fickle. On the one hand, we’ve restored diplomatic relations with North Korea since 2000, but on the other hand, we’ve supported every single UN resolution on their human rights abuses since. More recently, this hypocrisy has become even clearer. Increasing numbers of North Korean refugees are being denied British asylum, despite having risked their lives to escape one of the world’s most feared totalitarian dictatorships. To put this into context, in 2014, 17 of the 23 North Korea asylum cases registered in Britain were rejected, whereas in 2012 virtually all applications were accepted. The fact that such inconsequential numbers of refugees are being turned away is symbolic of the contradictory nature of our asylum policy. Read more on New Statesman…


Meet The North Koreans Who Went Through Hell To Reach London’s Suburbs


On the second floor of a building behind a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in the London suburb of New Malden, a small team is producing Free NK, a pro-democracy North Korean newspaper. The paper’s editor, Joo-Il Kim, has lived in the area since fleeing North Korea a decade ago, and says he loves it in the UK. The 42-year-old’s “ideal life” has come at a cost, though. He hasn’t spoken to his family in eight years. “I used to make contact through brokers but now I can’t find any broker who dares contact them,” he says. “My family are all being watched by the authorities.” Kim’s story is not unique – he is one of some 600 North Koreans living in New Malden, known as “Little Pyongyang” by some. It’s the largest North Korean community in Europe. Read more on BuzzFeed…


Why were the polls so wrong?


Like Ed Miliband, pollsters also suffered a severe defeat last week. Far from the dead heat which the national opinion polls had predicted for months, David Cameron won by a heavy margin. But how did the pollsters get it so fundamentally wrong? Especially, when just yesterday, even Cameron thought a Conservative majority was near impossible. After the exit polls blew months and months of pollsters’ predictions out the water, it became clear that the Tories had been radically underestimated. We thought that the race couldn’t be any closer but we were in fact wrong. In the words of Cameron himself, “I’ve often said that there’s only one opinion poll that counts and that’s the one on election day and I’m not sure that’s ever been truer than today and tonight”. Read more on New Statesman…


Welfare cuts have hit women hardest – a step back on the path to equality

Single mother

As the coalition’s first term draws to a close, it seems a reasonable moment to ask: has the government’s programme of austerity disproportionately attacked women? It’s difficult to argue otherwise when in the past five years, studies have repeatedly shown that women have borne the burden of cuts to welfare. Last month the Fawcett Society reported that a staggering 74% of the money saved from benefit and tax changes since 2010 has come directly from women’s pockets. To put it another way: £22bn of the £26bn saved from welfare reform has been taken from women. Make no mistake – auesterity has been gendered. Read more on The Guardian… 


The UK’s New Supervised Job Search Scheme Feels Like a Farcical Joke


Good news: ​ The old stereotypes of jobless people idling their days away in their underwear watching Top Gear re-runs are long gone. Bad news: As supervised job search schemes and mandatory workfare programmes have forced claimants to work for no wage, unemployment has become a full-time job, only without a pay slip at the end of the month. Since November, the government has introduced the ​Pilot Supervised Job Search Scheme, where unemployed benefit claimants are expected to spend 35 hours a week searching for jobs inside the steamed-up windows of their local Jobcentre provider. Claimants are forced to sign an attendance register at 9AM and search for jobs solidly until 5PM, five days a week, for three months. If they fail to do so, sanctions will follow. Benefits will be cut. Read more on VICE…


Why are Occupy Democracy protesters staging another occupation in London?


In spite of the wet weather and icy winds, Occupy Democracy protesters gathered in Parliament Square last night to call for a movement for truly representative democracy. However, plans to occupy Parliament Square were immediately thwarted as the square had been fenced off, with dozens of police encircling its perimeter and Scotland Yard warning that an “appropriate and proportionate police plan” was in place. After a short-lived stand-off with the police, 150 protesters moved into the road to form a blockade, drowning out the beeps of angry Whitehall motorists. Managing to narrowly avoid kettling and arrests, protesters marched towards parliament to occupy the square in front of the Supreme Court. Having not moved, they plan to be there until Sunday evening, with a range of workshops and speeches planned. Read more on New Statesman…


Hampstead & Kilburn: Lib Dem collapse to hand Labour closest marginal

lib dems

Like much of London, Hampstead & Kilburn straddles great affluence and great deprivation. The chichi cafes and blue plaques of Hampstead village are a life away from the payday loan lenders and chicken shops of Kilburn high street. Hampstead’s leafy residential streets and neatly-trimmed hedgerows are home to London’s liberal intelligentsia, first satirised by the Daily Telegraph in the 1960’s. Lady Dutt-Paukar, the “Hampstead Liberal”, was a wealthy aristocratic socialist who lived in Marxmount House, a palatial Hampstead mansion. Not only did her house contain an original pair of Bukharin’s false teeth, it also had a range of neo-constructivist art and precious Ming vases, alongside the complete writings of Stalin. Today the area still brims with ageing actors and playwrights, and the Hampstead Heath Society still refers to itself as the “literartti”. Read more on MAY2015…


Will the “missing million” vote Yes or No in the Scottish referendum?


With a record turnout expected at the Scottish Independence referendum, today looks set to be the busiest day in the electoral history of Scotland. A total of 97 per cent of the Scottish adult populace have registered to vote, making this the most sizeable electorate to be remembered. What’s more, over 120,000 voters have registered in the last month alone. Salmond says he expects a turnout of 80 per cent, which is radically higher than the 64 per cent turnout in Scotland in the 2010 Westminster election or the 50 per cent turnout in the Scottish parliament election the year before. With unprecedented numbers of citizens queuing up to place their vote, it is even harder than usual to predict how today will pan out. Read more on the New Statesman…

Spend 35 hours a week at your job centre or face sanctions


This October will see the introduction of pilot job search schemes, where unemployed benefit claimants will be required to carry out 35 hours of supervised job searches every week. From next month, claimants will be expected to sign an attendance register at a local Job Centre provider at nine in the morning and search for jobs until 5pm, for five days a week, for three months. If they fail to do so, they will face sanctions, with the first sanction resulting in the loss of one month’s worth of benefits, and the second sanction culminating in the withdrawal of three months’ money. Read more on the Newstatesman


The ‘Live Below The Line’ campaign is spurious and patronising


Live Below The Line is an annual poverty campaign that asks participants to feed themselves on £1 a day for 5 days. The global campaign, now in its fifth year, hails itself as an experiential challenge that helps “participants gain first-hand insight into the lives of people living below the poverty line.” And yet, rather than being a way for people to genuinely empathise with the hard realities of poverty, it seems the intentions of well-meaning participants have got lost on the way. From the end of April to the beginning of May, social media streams were inundated with self-congratulatory selfies of tasty, wholesome dinners and, before long, the campaign seemed to have become yet another self-centred fitness fad or arbitrary test of willpower. Read more on Ceasefire…


Bedroom taxed households pass the 10,000 mark


Exactly a year on from the coalition’s Welfare Reform Bill, more than 10,000 households across the EastLondonLine boroughs have been affected by the “Bedroom Tax”. Elsbeth Benjafield has lived in her two-bed flat in Tower Hamlets quite happily for 35 years. Part of a housing co-op in Bethnal Green, many of the residents have been Elsbeth’s neighbours for decades. Her sister lives nearby, a crucial support network for the former touring actress, who has recently suffered from kidney failure. Last year, however, this happy existence came under threat. With her second bedroom now regarded under the new “Bedroom Tax” law as “surplus to requirements” for someone living on their own, she was left with two options. Read more on EastLondonLines…


The rise of the Foodbank


The social impact of the welfare reforms has been wide reaching, with often the most vulnerable being hardest hit. Today we look at the rise of the foodbank, and how a growing number of ELL’s residents are turning to them as a means of subsistence, as they attempt to deal with the increasingly difficult financial situations they face. In 2009, you would not be able to find a Trussell Trust foodbank anywhere across the four Eastlondonlines boroughs. The charity at that time had 56 foodbanks nationally – only five were set-up in London. Now just five years on, there are over 275 Trussell Trust networks across the UK with 40 in London alone. Read more on EastLondonLines…


Who Shapes Cities and For Whom?


As capitalism has evolved, so have the cities we inhabit; capitalism has found new and invigorated inspiration in the conquest of space.  As urban regions have become critical to capital accumulation, cities have become command nodes in a globalised economy. In turn, urban regeneration schemes have become increasingly geared towards foreign investment and global image rather than the needs of citizens. By exploring late capitalism through a spatial rubric, this article will examine the urban transformations of the post-industrial west. As manufacturing industries have diminished and the consumer and service economy has grown, the places we inhabit have radically changed. In turn, cities have shed their industrial fibre and been forced to restore their fortunes by investing in consumption and entertainment industries. Read more on New Left Project…


Clapton: From “murder mile” to “museli mile”


Formerly known as ”murder mile”, Clapton was infamous for its gun and drug-related crime rather than its crêperies and coffee houses. Now, dubbed the frontline of Hackney’s gentrification, Clapton has undergone dramatic change. Absorbing the overspill from its increasingly gentrified neighbours, Dalston and Stoke Newington, E5 has been dramatically “yummified”. 2014 has witnessed the invasion of even more independent cafes catering for an incoming class of babycino-buying, flat-white-sipping mothers. Yet another coffee shop, Hub Velo, is about to open in place of Nollywood unisex hair salon. Read more on EastLondonLines…


Book Launch – Colin Ward: Life, times and thought

colin ward

Colin Ward enthusiasts crammed into Housmans bookshops to commemorate the work of Britain’s most famous anarchist thinker. Carl Levy, Ruth Kinna, Pietro di Paola and Stuart White all gave compelling accounts of Ward’s work and life. We learned of the vast ambit of his pursuits, ranging from urban architecture to town planning, squatting and non-hierarchical education. Following his hands-on experience as an architect and education officer, Ward went onto publish extensively on housing, education and childhood. In the 60s, Ward also became editor of Anarchy and Freedom, two of the most widely acclaimed British anarchist journals. Throughout this period, Ward remained committed to the practical applied dimensions of theory, retaining a zeal for ‘anarchy in action’. In practising what he preached, Ward sought to replace authoritarian social organisation with decentralised, de-bureaucratised autonomous and non-hierarchical forms of organisation. Read more on Lawrence & Wishart…


Mustafa Korel: Fighting for Hackney First


After a four-year wait on a council housing waiting list, Mustafa Korel moved to Dalston in the early 1980s when he began his long and colourful journey as a community activist. As a long-term Hackney resident, Korel is now considered by some to be a popular contender to be the Mayor of Hackney in the forthcoming local elections in May 2014. Korel officially announced his decision to run as an Independent candidate at an event hosted by community campaign group, Hackney First, late last week. Korel is a founding member of the grassroots organisation that supports independent political candidates and runs a range of community outreach programmes across the borough. Read more on EastLondonLines…

Beyond the Oxford Road Corridor: 1 in 5 Mancunians in extreme poverty


A world away from the purple hoodies of Oxford Road, increasing numbers of Mancunians are living in conditions of extreme poverty. On Wednesday 20th February, the ‘Campaign to End Poverty’ published figures which revealed that Manchester Central has the highest levels of child poverty in the whole of the UK, with nearly half (47%) of children experiencing severe poverty. This news follows the shocking findings published by ‘Greater Manchester Poverty Commission’ in January. The commission revealed that over one in five residents in Greater Manchester lives in conditions of ‘extreme poverty’. Bishop McCulloch, the chair of the report, classed ‘extreme poverty’ as an income of less than £12,000 a year. In revealing that one in five Mancunians lives in the 10% most severely deprived areas in the country, the report exposed the stark reality of unemployment, low income and public sector neglect in Manchester. Read more on The Mancunion…


Squatters Are Not Criminals


Despite the great controversy that inevitably surrounds them, squatters are not who you may think they are. Squatters are generally the most vulnerable people in society; the people who cannot keep up with the rat race and who fall through the cracks instead. I’m referring to the homeless, the physically disabled and the mentally ill. The vast majority of those who squat do so out of necessity. What’s more, the decimation of housing benefits and public services – a result of the Coalition’s savage programme of cuts – is bound to leave increasing numbers of people with nowhere to go. The criminalisation of squatting therefore fails to consider, let alone address, the underlying problems which the poorest people in our society are facing. Read more on The Mancunion…

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