Tuesday, 28 July 2015


The focus of the Dundee Fairness Commission so far has always ended up with issues of poverty and lack of resources.  There is no greater, nor blasphemous, waste of resources, than the eye-watering sums spent on weapons of war and oppression. Trillions and trillions of pounds, dollars, euros and every other currency under the sun are spent on the manufacture, use and threat of use of weapons ranging from hand guns to nuclear bombs. 
One of the annual delights in my life is to go to the Duncan of Jordanstone degree show.  I've been going for the past 20 years and never once been disappointed.  The range of imagination that fires the artistry of the students is utterly amazing.  One student this year had an exhibition illustrating what he perceived about the world's trouble spots - he gave examples from the Middle East, the Central African Republic, the Philippines and Pakistan amongst others.  There wasn't a weapon at all in his display, it was all examples of heavy engineering.  He said, and I think I quote him properly, "Wars are as much about engineering and economics as about actual warfare."  At the time I knew instantly I was listening to wisdom.
This year, the Dundee Festival for Peace comprises various events between 6th August (Hiroshima Memorial Day) and 21st September which id the U.N International Day for Peace.
Details of individual events can be found on the dundeefestival4peace Facebook page or by emailing dundeefestival4peace@gmail.com

Thursday, 23 July 2015


It's a question ringing round the United Kingdom and probably nowhere more painfully than in Labour's so-called heartlands in Scotland.  What is Labour for?  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asks, "If Labour is not about standing up for the vulnerable, trying to lift people out of poverty and help those who are working hard to make ends meet, then what on earth is labour for?"
Can I put it more succinctly.  If Labour is not a crusade for social justice, it is nothing.  At the moment the Party seems depressingly moving towards proving it is nothing.


Contrary to the belief that the deep fried Mars bar is part of a Glaswegian's staple diet, I am a Glaswegian who not only has never had a deep fried Mars bar, I don't personally know anyone else who has.  Never the less, I cannot think what must have possessed the bright sparks in Aberdeenshire Council to want the Stonehaven chip shop to take down their 'Birthplace of the World Famous Deep Fried Mars Bar' sign. 
I was chaplain to the staff of Tayside Regional Council and then Dundee City Council for over 15 years and during these years I was impressed over and over and over again by their commitment to the well being of the City.  But even the best of folk sometimes make the daftest of decisions.  "Dundee - City of Discovery" was, I believe, a wonderful, pithy and memorable slogan, yet, at great expense, a number of years ago, it was decided to bin 'City of Discovery' for the far less memorable title, "One City - Many Discoveries".  Can this error not now be rectified?  Its been allowed to run for long enough, can we not get back "DUNDEE, CITY OF DISCOVERY "?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


The Dutch city of Utrecht is about to start on an experiment which hopes to determine whether society works effectively with a universal, unconditional 'basic' income.  The City has paired up with the University to establish whether the concept of a 'basic' income can work in real life.  From January, some Utrecht job-seekers will receive around €1,300 a month with no strings attached.  Critics are arguing that job-seekers will not try as hard to get a job; the proponents of the experiment believe that more people will be a little happier and will find a job anyway.
The population of Utrecht (330,000) is about double that of Dundee, but in our city where the very opposite of 'no strings attached' prevails and is manifested in a bewildering welter of sanctions, the Fairness Commission should encourage the City Council to watch the Utrecht experiment closely.

Friday, 10 July 2015


"From Welfare to Work" was the headline on Thursday's Daily Telegraph.  It was just one of a number of banner headlines reacting to Wednesday's budget.  With its usual right-wing hyperbole the Daily Express trumpeted "HOORAY! ITS PAY RISES ALL ROUND".  Mind you, if you are working in the public sector your pay rise will be limited to 1% - not too much hooray there.  A so-called 'Living Wage' of £9 per hour, but by 2020 what might it be worth?  By this morning when the number-crunching experts had gone to work it was clear that over 13 million families would be left worse off.  Was this what Ian Duncan Smith was captured cheering ecstatically about?
But let me leave IDS (if only) and return to the "From Welfare to Work" headline.  I have had the privilege - I'm not sure that's the right word - of reading a memo to David Cameron from a woman struggling with ill health called Rosie Fletcher.  It was written on 3rd July, just a few days before the budget.  Here are some of the things she said:
"Another day, another rummage down the back of the benefits sofa to find a spare £12bn.  This week: changing Employment Support Allowance to incentivise ill people to get back to work.  One problem:  I already have the best incentive to stop being ill and get back to work.  It's called "being ill".  I would love to go back to work because if I were able to work I would no longer be sick.  Long term illness nibbles away at your identity from the edges, taking out chunks of the things that makes you you: the friends you meet, the shops you wander into, the job you do.............I would love to have a job.  I would like to feel productive.
This proposal (about changes to ESA) makes two fundamental mistakes:  that illness and disability are a) passive and b) attractively lucrative.
If you think I do not work for my benefits, you are wrong.  Ringing the DWP at eight in the morning to find out why my benefits are a month late, only to hear a recorded message to tell me they are busy and that perhaps I ought to call back between 8 and 9 in the morning..........the constant stream of sick notes I have to ask my doctor for, pick up from the surgery and post to the DWP..........the sight of a brown envelope on the doormat makes my heart pause; I fear each one will contain a ransom note of sanctions.  My doctor asks me what causes me stress.  I can answer in three letters, D.W.P.
Chronic illness often feels like a terribly paid admin job, chasing down missed payments, posting doctors' notes, requesting repeat prescriptions, sending in bank statements.  The rigmarole around being ill seems to tower, colossus-like over the actual illness.......cutting the money that sick and disabled people receive isn't an incentive to work, its a disincentive and a punishment for being ill.
If you think that eventually you can make people so sad and stressed and poor that they will 'get over' being ill, that you can starve them out and they'll end their little displays of sickness, then you are very much mistaken.  We have all the incentives we need to get back to work; cutting ESA will only make it harder to do so."
I don't think this letter needs any additional comment from me.

Thursday, 9 July 2015


The aspirations of the new V & A in Dundee to be a centre of international, indeed global  importance were surely enhanced by the recent announcement that there would be an example of Glasgow's culture in a model of Miss Cranston's Tea room designed by Charles Rennie MacIntosh.  The institution of the tea room in Sauchiehall Street as a venue for social intercourse for the ladies of the west end dates back to those heady days when Glasgow was the Second City of the Empire.
The tea room will be an important exhibit.  I hope however that alongside the tea room there might be another Glaswegian exhibit, The Steamie, which is of no lesser significance.  Even in those vibrant days, at the height of her economic power, there was another side to Glasgow, the largely impoverished east end.  If Miss Cranston's tea room was the venue for the 'ladies' of the west end, social intercourse for the 'women' of the east end was The Steamie.  So come on you directors of the V & A, get yourselves a Steamie!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Dundee Fairness Commission met last night at the East Housing Office in Pitkerro Road to look at Welfare Reform.  With a compelling mixture of statistics and stories, Mary Kinninmonth of the Citizen's Advice Bureau and Ginny Lawson of the Brooksbank Centre laid bare the fear and bewilderment and powerlessness inflicted by the system on the most vulnerable of people.  Ginny described it as 'a maze without a map' and Mary said, "It cannot be right that people are left desperate."
Responding to the welter of evidence of the incomprehensible nature of the application of so many sanctions and their devastating consequences on people's lives, Alan Kane and Kirsty Marr of the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) asserted that sanctions are a key component of the contract: the Claimant Commitment which is a legally binding contract.  "There are no targets (for the application of sanctions)" they stated categorically, despite what may appear in the press.
They talked about 'work coaches' whose task is to create a personal work programme for each individual claimant that is feasible, yet so much of the evidence before us points to people running out of jobs to apply for and being sent for jobs they have no hope of getting.  So-called 'workfare' is presented as an opportunity to gain experience, but seems to many just another form of exploitation.  All this is both demoralising and demeaning, a far cry from the incentivising that is the claim of their political masters.  The fact that 30% of sanctions are cancelled illumines a disastrous catalogue of waste, anxiety, agony and disruption of claimants' lives as money is withheld for weeks, and sometimes months.  It cannot be described as anything other than intolerable!
Greg Colgan of Dundee City Council informed the Commission of a range of services and projects that the Council has to try to break the cycle of debt.  Believing that support is best when community based, he described amongst other things the GP surgery project which has welfare rights advisors based in the surgery.  It has had massive results in benefits maximisation.  But all the time it seems that in the face of the Government's reforms it is like trying to push a huge boulder uphill all the time.  It was a member of the public, (who were again present, a very welcome feature of the Commission's meetings) who put her finger on it when she declared passionately, "The reason behind Welfare Reform is cuts, it's not about helping people!"  It is already well publicised that the current reforms will cost Dundee £56 million annually.
As we process our aim of seeking to create a 'living wage city', we will be looking specifically at the terms and conditions being offered to prospective employees of the new Sports Direct shop and gym.  An outcome of last night's meeting has been that we have been asked if the 'living wage city' could be coupled with the pursuit of a 'workfare-free city'.  The challenges mount.