Boris brings back the bursary!

The mainstream news has made a big deal of Boris’ commitment to restore the bursary for student nurses. This rather small amount of money (£6,000 per year) was ended by a previous Tory administration in 2016, resulting in a very significant decline in student nurse numbers. The new, far right administration has decided to sweeten the pill of its own policy portfolio by restoring it, apparently as part of the bid to increase nursing numbers by 50, 000 after the election. We now learn that this figure is intended to be achieved a full 10 years after the election, that 19,000 of those nurses are already nursing in the NHS and that there is no cohesive plan to retain the qualified nurses currently leaving the NHS in droves due to Tory mismanagement of the health service.
But let’s examine this ‘generous’ bursary claim, shall we?


I began my nurse training in 1992 with a bursary on £4,800 and no charge for tuition fees. That amounted to around £90 per week out of which I had to find food, rent, textbooks, and clothing for work. In the trust I trained at psych nurses wore suits and so did the students. Qualified staff got their suits paid for but we didn’t. I had to budget for suits, shirts and decent shoes for work as well. At the start of our training we were all given a voucher worth £50.00 for textbooks from the local Waterstones but as you might imagine that didn’t go terribly far.

Life was hard in those days. Three years on we were still on the same £4,800 a year. Most of us had to take second jobs just to survive. I regularly used to cycle 10 miles to a local nursing home to work a night shift after work or college only to cycle back again in the morning, have a quick shower and turn up back on the ward for my shift in the NHS. But, of course, things are different now…

Bursaries 3

The majority of today’s students will receive a bursary of £5,000 per year. That’s about £8 a week more than I got 28 years ago. And they’ll have tuition fees to pay for and much higher rents. My accommodation in the nurses home was on the hospital grounds. It was subsidised by the NHS but even the nurses home is no longer a thing in today’s dog eat dog NHS market.

Some lucky students, for example those who follow me into psychiatric nursing will receive more, up to £8,000 apparently. That’s about £160 a week. Again, hardly a lot when you have textbooks to buy and suitable ward clothing to maintain. How much of that will go on accommodation? How much on food or travel to placements which are now much further afield than they were in my day due to the way services are delivered post 2012.

Bursaries 2

If we want to maintain a strong nursing profession we need to look after our new entrants. It’s a hard life being a student nurse, especially once the student becomes ‘part of the numbers’ and is relied upon as a pair of hands on placement, no longer there just to learn but actually to work as well. There are lectures to attend, placement assessments and assignments to pass, exams to cram for and still, clinical work to do as part of the nursing team just like any other. It can be exhausting.

If Boris really thinks a few grand a year will be a significant encouragement to new students I think he’s sadly mistaken, especially when so many qualified nurses are leaving the profession they love because it’s just too hard to make ends meet. And if that’s true for qualified staff, what chance have the poor students?

Harness that anger – quickly

So here’s the thing. It’s New Year’s day 2020 and like many of us I struggle to think of much to be optimistic about for the year or even the decade ahead. Tory austerity will continue, most likely at an accelerated pace and even more people seem likely to fall into poverty with an ever shrinking social safety net to support them. I know I’m not the only one who worries about this today because I see my contacts on social media saying exactly the same. That’s the Facebook echo chamber at work, I imagine.

But let’s just take a breath. Pause for thought and see if we can’t make a little better use of our characteristic, socialist compassion.

I have long believed that the difference between the right and the left is this. The right looks after its own, be they defined through race, religion, nationality or social class whereas the left wants to make the world better and fairer for everyone. And that includes the people we might be angry with as the country embarks on another decade of Tory inequality.

Too many of us are promising never to befriend a Tory voter again. Too many of us are venting our anger, our sense of betrayal even on our working class neighbours who voted Tory, LibDem or worse. I understand that anger. I feel it too. But it’s not what we should be about and it certainly won’t help restore fairness and decency to the UK.

We’re all fallible, even us and so are our neighbours. In my view nothing demonstrates that fallibility more than the recent election result. Our friends and neighbours have just voted for austerity, privatisation of public services, greater inequality and the destruction it working class communities across the land. And we’re all going to suffer for it – including them.

If we are to survive the next few years with our rights intact and our people protected we have to come together. That’s not just an option, it’s a necessity. We need to heal our broken communities and quickly because the Tories aren’t hanging around. And we’ll never do that by ostracizing our neighbours because they made a mistake, a mistake fuelled by the concerted efforts of the mainstream media and a right wing network that wouldn’t know the truth if it came up and bit them!

Personally I’ve only ever disowned a single relative and that’s not because he’s a Tory. It’s because he wants to treat Muslims, refugees and asylum seekers as less than human. He even claimed to want to sit stop the white cliffs with a machine gun and execute desperate refugees. Him, I disowned years ago but I won’t be rejecting anyone for voting Tory, angry and disappointed that I am.

They’re part of our community and we need them!

Welcome to the Twenties

It’s 2020! Welcome to the Twenties!

What a decade it’s been. We began 2010 in the throes of recession thanks to a global recession that began in 2008 with the American sub-prime mortgage and investment fiasco and quickly spread across the globe. By 2010 our economy here in UK  had suffered massive damage but we had a working welfare state to protect our citizens from the worst of the crisis.

Then, in May of 2010 the real British catastrophe began, The ConDem government introduced austerity and so began a decade long process of starving our social safety net of funds while throwing massive tax cuts at the wealthy. Ten years on and our vital services are almost unrecognisable, they’re so depleted by years of Tory and LibDem cuts and back door privatisation. And now, in the closing weeks of 2019 a new disaster has begun to bite.

Boris Johnson has such a huge parliamentary majority that he can do whatever he wants and make no mistake, he will. He’s already made it clear that he plans to ‘review’ the relationship between the government, parliament and the judiciary in such a way that he and his ministers will be able to rewrite any law they choose without recourse to anyone – not even the law. Privatisation of the NHS is increasing quickly now and manifesto promises about minimum wage rises and working peoples’ rights are already being fudged. The new decade looks set to be a whole lot worse than the one we’ve just left.

If this nation is to survive the next ten years and still retain even a modicum of decency, if we are to maintain anything close to the social safety net we have taken for granted for so many years we  need to come together as one. We need to put the differences of the last few years aside, forget the petty prejudices and paranoia centering around race, religion, country of origin or social status and work together for the good of the whole community.

Many of us are working hard to do just that. Join us – help keep UK society together until the storm of this far right government is over. It’s a storm we need to face together or few of us will survive it at all.

Paul’s gone to the dogs!

Gone to the dogs‘ is a small cafe with some very big ideas. Just like any other cafe you can go there for a cuppa or a bite to eat, you can even bring your dog inside. But that’s not all you can do. You can take part in the cafe’s ‘Pay it forward’ scheme as well.

When you pay for your food you have the option to overpay and if you do something truly wonderful happens. The cashier taking your money writes the excess amount on a post it note that’s kept behind the counter. It’s a bit like a token for food or a cup of tea that homeless or otherwise disadvantaged citizens can redeem for food.

Not only that, the cafe offers people a chance to launder their clothes, to meet and socialise, to get involved in community projects and also provides advice and advocacy where possible. They’ve even been instrumental in finding homes for people.

I met Paul, the inspiration behind the cafe last Sunday. The cafe was bursting with people, some homeless, some clearly not and all enjoying good food, a cup of tea and a community atmosphere of the kind I haven’t seen for years.

Stand up. Be counted. It’s a duty!

I may be unusual but I’m convinced that it’s a duty owed to my society to stand against injustice. It’s not enough quietly to disengage from abusers, to say nothing in the face of racism or to walk away from the impoverishment of our neighbours.

Perhaps Desmond Tutu put it best…

“If you are neutral when the elephant stands on the mouse’s tail, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Stand up. Be counted. It’s a duty!

‘Twas the morning of Christmas

Twas the morning of Christmas

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a mouse.

The members were missing,

Backbenchers and front

Even dear Boris

At Thame in the country (with Carrie his soon to be spouse).

The front benches were empty:

Tories flew off like bats

To their fat Christmas turkeys

The selfish tw rats.

And in towns that were labour

Until Boris lied

Rough sleepers lay shivering

As hungry kids cried.

But the Tories don’t care

About other peoples’ pain

Their only real interest

Is personal gain.

They could have done so much

For kids, mams and dads

But they only care for

The Bullingdon lads:

The lovers of pigs heads;

The trashers of bars;

The fifty quid burners;

And crashers of cars.

Twas the morning of Christmas

And all through the house

Tory MPs ignored

All those poor as a mouse.


Eat your greens!

“Eat your greens! There are kids in Africa who’d be really grateful for what you’ve got there.”

So my mother used to rebuke me. It was a mealtime ritual that has stuck in my memory ever since. I was a picky eater as a child, to say the least. Oh to return to those heady years of my 32” waist and slim fit shirts. Those were the days!

We weren’t exactly wealthy when I was a kid. A student grant doesn’t go far when feeding three children and a single mother who’d gone back to college when my Dad abandoned us. We had lots of homemade rice puddings with strawberry jam. We had crumpets grilled on a toasting fork over the electric fire. We ate cereal a lot (not the fancy stuff) and jam sandwiches. My grandmother’s tatie pots were a joy to behold on winter evenings. So were her meat and tatie pies. It was basic fayre but it was tasty enough. And it was food.

Today, 50 years later I can still hear my mother’s voice echoing in my head. But this time the starving kids she talks about aren’t in far off parts of the developing world. This time she (or rather my mental representation of her) is talking about the children down the road, the school-leaver sanctioned because he didn’t get the DWP letter or the family of four with a single zero-hours contract to live on.

Today, in the world’s fifth largest economy there’s more hunger, poverty and destitution than ever before in my lifetime. And that’s just disgraceful!

This is what we get after 9 years of tory rule.

What will we see after another 5?

I genuinely do not believe that the majority of tory voters really meant for this hardship to continue – even to increase but as is becoming all too obvious, that’s what’s happening. That doesn’t mean that those usual labour voters who ‘lent’ Boris Johnson’s far right government their vote are stupid. But it does mean that they were lied to by an efficient main stream media and a slick marketing campaign aimed at whitewashing the conservative record and deifying Boris in particular. My people, my working-class brothers and sisters aren’t stupid but maybe they’re too trusting.

There’s no point in becoming too despondent about that right now. Instead we need to get active. Community groups are cropping up all over UK to combat the worst abuses of Boris’ government, to help feed the hungry and house the destitute. You can find out what’s going on by checking this link or by subscribing to this blog. Over the next five years I’ll be interviewing and showcasing a host of community action organisations, offering them encouragement and ensuring they keep getting their voices heard.

Why not join one – or start one yourself?

Rose to the occasion


What do you do when the world you thought you knew is falling apart before your very eyes? Heather is a teacher who has seen her life change dramatically over the last 9 years. Once all she had to worry about was in-class discipline and the arduous task of trying to instill not just knowledge but understanding and the skill of critical thinking into her pupils’ heads. All that’s changed now.

These days she sees her colleagues buying shoes for children who would otherwise be barefoot (yes, really), charging electricity keys, buying food for hungry families, paying for pupils’ lunches. She even works with some of the older students who’ve started a uniform recycling bank to help the families with younger children equip them for school.

Like many others, Heather allowed herself to dream in the run up to the general election on December 12th. Like so many of us she dared to believe that things could be different, that things might get better with a change of government and that the poverty and hunger that surrounded her might change with it.
“It didn’t happen” Says Heather “So I decided I’d see if anyone wanted to make that change happen with me”.


Lynette works as a Transformation project manager in social care.
“I’ve seen the knock-on effects of underfunding services, health, education and voluntary services. I just can’t bear to see people struggling to get by and thrive. I believe everyone should have equal opportunity to have a good, secure life.”

I interviewed Heather and Lynette this weekend. Together, along with Fiona and Claire, they represent ‘The Rose‘, around 100 concerned community activists, all worried about the impact of the next 5 years on communities, upon individuals and upon rights and all ready, willing and able to do something about it.

The basic idea is straightforward enough. Lynette explained…
“We’ll run a national Rose group that has oversight and local Rose hubs that are able to spot gaps in provision and many willing volunteers to help support filling those gaps.”
The principle is simple, but what about the logistics? The ladies had an answer for that question too as Fiona told me…
“We have several people with specialisms in mental health, web techies, researchers, writers, people with experience of organising…”

“… We want to improve the lives of people on a local and (hopefully) national scale.” Claire interrupted. “Anyone can benefit from The Rose’s services be it children, disabled or sick people, homeless people, those suffering with mental health issues, the list is pretty endless. We want to do this whilst spreading the message of positivity and hope.”

Fiona has an enduring mental illness and is reliant on ever dwindling benefits and over-stretched support services herself. She tells me of her fears for the future of UK society.
“I am on PIP, ESA and pay the bedroom tax. Tory benefit reforms have been devastating. I also have seen cuts to my support service. I’m lucky to have excellent family support, so many don’t. I’ve seen many in the disabled and mental health community pushed to breaking point, and tragically even to their deaths. There are many great charities and organisations, helping with great ideas but there is so much need you can never have enough help.”

Fiona’s anxious for the health, well-being and quality of life of our minorities and other vulnerable groups. She tells me how devastated she is at the loss of support for so many and how she abhors the right-wing narrative infecting the country today.
“I just felt there must be some way of helping.” She said.

Although, as Claire was quick to remind me, The rose project is still very much in the ‘ideas stage’ at the moment, the plan is to create a network of regional hubs attached to a central co-ordination point. Each local Rose hub will identify the greatest need in its own area and then that need will be met either locally or via central co-ordination involving all the other hubs. There’ll be specific Rose hubs for specific skills and areas of work such as mental health, homelessness and housing, benefits advice, advocacy etc. Many of the necessary skills already exist within the group membership which continues to grow as people spread the word.

So far they have the beginnings of specialist groups for mental health, education, disabilities, advocacy, benefits advice, homelessness and housing and NHS volunteering. They also have strong links to existing foodbanks and even a free psychotherapy network for people unable to access NHS psychotherapy in their areas and who cannot afford private sessions either.

Just as great oaks grow from little acorns, beautiful Rose gardens can begin with a few good seeds and the determination to make this happen couldn’t be more obvious. With around 100 willing volunteers already signed up from all across the UK it seems as though nothing can stop these very determined ladies and their colleagues as they strive to help not just their own communities but every community in the land.

I look forward to revisiting the Rose project and to watching it grow into something truly worthy of its name in the future.

Find out how you can get involved in your area, share your expertise or lend local support by contacting the Rose here…


Twitter: @TheRoseCommuni1

Tories pledge to increase wages… or not

Minimum vs living wage pledge.pngThis is a screenshot of the tory manifesto. It’s an unusual combination of part fact and part fiction intended to make working class voters think that leopards really could change their spots. Here the conservatives promise to raise the minimum wage to £10.50 an hour by 2024. That was nothing compared to the fully costed Labour plan to increase it to a tenner immediately but hey ho – you pays your money and you takes your choice. And pay we will – through the nose.

Now, despite claiming that their manifesto was fully accounted for (it seems that it wasn’t), the tories have rolled back their commitment to our lowest paid workers. Now it’s more an aspiration “if economic circumstances allow”.

Well what did you expect? They are tories, after all. They don’t give a stuff about the working class.

Inequality (but in a good way)

I’m about to put all my lefty credentials at serious risk. If people read only the first few paragraphs of this article I’ll be drummed out of the tree-huggers, yoghurt-knitters and snowflake breeders union before you can say “Corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches”! And that’s fine – because there are no yoghurt-knitters in my world, no snowflakes and no 1970s social workers with leather elbow patches either. There are a few tree-huggers but that’s OK – that’s actually a good thing.

My world is populated by people who know the hardships of the real world, who are strong enough to cope with them and who still find the energy and resources they need to stand up for their neighbours. We’re the working class, we’re not the stereotypical snowflakes, constantly offended by every little disagreement, that’s much more characteristic of the far right. They get hot under their sweaty little collars whenever anyone says a compassionate word or suggests that the welfare state might be worth protecting. Neither are we sad little loners sitting at our computers in our parents’ box-rooms wishing we had some friends. That’s more characteristic of the disaffected far right, too. Fucking snowflakes!

We, on the other hand, tend to be realists. Mostly working class, we come from generations of hardship and we know what it means to struggle. We don’t seek simple answers and we’re not interested in blaming the brown-skinned easy target next door just because they’re accessible. We go after the real issues and the real enemies of our society and our class. And, even in the face of defeat on a massive scale as we saw last Thursday we remain relentless.

And we understand something fundamental… (here’s the bit that just might get me evicted from the offence-takers’ circle). We understand that inequality is inevitable, even desirable. But not for the reasons Boris Johnson had in mind when he sang the praises of inequality a couple of weeks before the general election.

Please my fellow lefties – read on before you condemn your fellow socialist. You won’t be nearly so alarmed at my words if you do. Not only that, you may find that this argument will actually persuade some of your tory acquaintances to think again too.

Firstly, we know that even if we treated everyone the same with absolute equality of opportunity, outcomes would differ because people differ. We differ in intellectual ability, in temperament, in physical potential and in personality. All else being equal, the strong, determined industrious and intelligent woman will do better than the weak-willed, lazy and indolent young man who lazes his days away in the pub or on the street corner. She’ll also do better in the equally hard working but less intelligent school-leaver who lacks both her brains and her contacts. See we work only on equality of opportunity. You don’t need to be lazy to be disadvantaged in our unequal world, even with equality of opportunity, if you’re not in a position to compete with the strongest, the brightest, even the most attractive.

So what would be the solution in an ideal world? Follow the argument to its logical conclusion and it’s obvious. In an ideal world we’d all have equal abilities. But think about that. That’d mean we’d all be exactly the same. We’d all think the same thoughts, live the same lives and enjoy the same recreations. We’d all be clones and all hope of creativity would fly out the window along with the winged pigs necessary to bring such a world about. We can’t have equality of opportunity because we can’t have equality of inate ability and that really is a good thing.

So what can we have?

Well – we can have equality of facility. We can compensate for disadvantages without having to worry about unequal ability so long as we have decent outcomes. We can have lifts in underground stations for wheelchair users. We can have hearing loop systems in public spaces for hearing aid users. We can have systems in place to ensure that the inequality we see around us doesn’t prevent people from achieving to the best of their ability. There will still be inequality but nobody will be left so far behind because of it that they can’t afford to eat.

And it’s not just about hearing aids and elevators. If we must charge for higher education we could ensure that those from poorer backgrounds get extra help with accommodation fees and general living expenses on campus. If we’re really going to keep VAT on food we can provide an additional weekly top up for those who don’t benefit from reduced income tax equivalent to the VAT paid on an average week’s shopping. After all, VAT is paid at the same rate whether you’re on top rate income tax or too poor to pay any income tax in the first place. That’s no different in principle from providing a lift in the tube or a hearing loop in your local community centre. It’s compensating for inequality without pretending it doesn’t exist.

You see, Boris is right – we do need inequality – but not because it stimulates envy and greed as he would prefer. We need inequality because the only way to do without it is to do without diversity and creativity.

But once we’ve acknowledged that we can’t have equality of ability we can compensate to protect all people from the worst excesses of inequality of outcome.

John Rawls famously asked people to design a social structure for a society that exists behind a ‘veil of ignorance’. It was a hypothetical society in which they could be either the most able, the least able or at any point in between. They could have the most opportunity or the least opportunity. They could be anyone but, as the thought experiment goes, they would be someone. Everyone who participated had to imagine themselves born somewhere into the social structure of the world behind the veil. And a remarkable thing happened.

When people didn’t know their own place in life they became fairer – not because there was no inequality, but because they couldn’t see it clearly.

We all know, even the stinking rich know that this unequal society is unfair. We all know that dog eat dog provides almost nobody with a truly satisfying meal. A society where so many suffer has disadvantages for all. An underfunded education creates a society full of under-educated people – people who vote and people who become so unemployable they need to steal to eat.

An under-funded healthcare system leads to ill health and epidemics. Under-funded police and fire services leave us all at risk – especially those with most to lose. In an unequal society everyone loses.

And, as the veil of ignorance demonstrates, we all understand just how unfair the present system is – that’s why nobody supports the sort of society we see today in UK when they’re planning the land behind the veil. Inequality of ability isn’t the problem. The pretence that somehow everyone can achieve the same outcomes with vastly different starting positions is the problem.

It’s not fair to raise VAT and say that means everyone pays the same tax when some people have so little they can’t afford to eat as a result.

It’s not fair to reduce income tax ‘for everyone’ when some people don’t even earn enough to meet the income tax threshold to begin with.

It’s not fair to say that everyone can go to the best universities when most people could never afford the cost of living or even the rent in our centres of educational excellence.

It’s not fair to pretend that everyone can be what they want when professional ladders begin with extended unpaid internships that bar everyone but the wealthiest from getting a foothold in the first place.

Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill gave us utilitarianism – a philosophical system begun by Bentham and refined by Mill that advocates for seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. That’s usually what happens in the land behind the veil. People plan fairly.

In our world, in modern UK we seem to be content to provide the greatest good for the smallest number whilst a third of British children remain undernourished and living in poverty.

We can do without that sort of inequality, Boris.

Corbyn’s Christmas challenge

Mia and Jade are just a couple of ordinary Northern women – but they have a dream. Not only that, they have a plan to go with it.

Like many others, these two Lancashire ladies were devastated when the news broke of a Tory majority last Friday. They knew all too well what that landslide result will mean for Britain’s most vulnerable people. 130,000 unnecessary deaths due to Tory policy already is hard to ignore, after all.

Like true Northeners the pair decided not to wallow in despair, despite the disaster that has befallen the nation. They decided to sort things out.

As Mia told me

“It’s time for the many to look out for the few!”