Quite a week that started and ended so brilliantly, with a group of young climate campaigners from the North West visiting the EU Parliament and coming home to the UK, inspired and energised to be the voice the environment urgently needs. In between were the darker times, as along with fellow MEPs, I signed a joint letter on the truly awful situation in Kashmir and discovered more about the antics of 25,000 corporate lobbyists in Europe.
“The young people striking opened doors for me that had not opened in 10 years of climate action here in Parliament.” – Molly Walsh, Friends of the Earth Europe speaking with our visiting group of young climate campaigners.
Taking 17 young climate campaigners to the European Parliament was everything I hoped it would be and much more. Fellow MEPs and European Parliament staff took the time to explore with them the way the Parliament here works and although a demanding schedule, it was very much worth it. Treated with the respect they deserved, our group were inspiring to watch and asked questions that would have given Dimbleby reason to applaud!
This visit to the European Parliament in Brussels is the first of two I have planned and if we stay in the European Union, I’d like to do many more. The opportunity to visit a place of politics in this way is rare and valuable, making it available to people from diverse backgrounds will benefit all involved – including those in Parliament who so attentively answer the questions and explain the processes.
The following snippets from just some of our participants make clear why I am so delighted with the outcome of this visit and eager for the next. We will have the full range of feedback uploaded on to the website next week:
Paris Hayes, 18, Bolton
“To be told by MEPs from across Europe that climate strikes have had an impact is nothing short of inspiring and provides hope to climate justice campaigners of any age. Knowing that collaboratively in Europe there is people trying to tackle the looming climate catastrophe signals to us that our future is looking brighter. As we know, environmental issues do not remain within the man-made borders of countries and by working together we can deliver better and stronger environmental protections such as clean air directives.”
Amy Woods, 21, Crosby, Liverpool
“I feel very privileged to have been apart of this trip to the European Parliament in Brussels, alongside so many amazing young activists from across the North West. Our time in Brussels allowed us to gain a greater understanding into the intricacies of the European Parliament. We were also able to have meetings with several green MEPs, who answered many of our questions surrounding the climate crisis – it was great finding out first hand how much our activism has influenced conversation at the European Parliament. In the evening, we got the opportunity to meet with a group of young climate activists from Belgium, where we exchanged ideas about future climate strikes.
“The only downside to the trip has been how sad we all felt at the prospect that other young people from the North West may not be able to have such an experience in the near future.”
Juliette Chandler, 18, Morecambe
“I feel incredibly grateful to all the Green Party staff and MEPs who facilitated our visit to Brussels. It was so inspiring to see people from so many countries collaborating and learn about their work regarding climate change, as well as what they are hoping to achieve in the future.
“The most interesting part for me was talking to MEPs about their experiences, as well as watching part of a meeting of Greens- European Free Alliance. The visit has shown me the impact that our strikes and protests are having and inspired me to continue to campaign harder to prevent climate change.”
Clare Pearson, 22, Knowsley
“The opportunity to visit the European Parliament has been absolutely incredible and inspiring! I think we’re all returning to the UK with extra drive and passion to keep campaigning for our climate and spread the word that the EU is listening.
Meeting the other climate activists from the North West and from Brussels was a great way to exchange ideas and build a network of contacts for future collaboration. We left Brussels already planning on starting up a North West youth climate group.”
Rosie Mills, 18, Lancaster
“I have never felt so incredibly impressed, but at the same time sad, as I have whilst visiting the European Parliament in Brussels. The building itself – the massive scale, the intense security, the modern architecture – and the people inside. I felt as if I was walking into a place of cooperation and compromise, which is so foreign to British politics but so incredibly needed. As a linguist myself, I was in awe at the fantastic translation services and 24 official languages.
“As a climate activist, it was amazing to hear from some of the Green/EFA MEPs how they thought the school strikes for climate were helping to bring climate change to the top of the European agenda.”
Miette Deady, 20, Chorley
“Thank you so much for the incredible opportunity to visit the EU Parliament! It was bittersweet to get the opportunity to visit the European Parliament amidst the current Brexit situation, seeing exactly how amazing what we will be missing out on is, should we leave the EU. Especially with parties like The Greens who support the youth strike movement and environmental activism being on the rise in the EU Parliament.
“Overall the trip has been very empowering, and has instilled more hope and motivation in us to keep protesting and to use what power we have as young people to put pressure on our government for system change that will benefit the environment.”
Kayleigh Crawford, 19, Manchester
“My involvement with the school strike movement began in February and grew from there. The first strike I went to was my first ever protest, and I have been to countless others since. Yet in all the months I’ve spent organising and campaigning for climate justice, I’ve never really felt a part of the bigger picture. Visiting the European Parliament with other climate activists from the North West of England has thoroughly changed my outlook and relationship to my activism.
“I made local connections to other campaigners in my area, but also had the opportunity to contextualise our efforts in an international setting. This combination of local and global was amazing and insanely enlightening.
“The visit was inspiring and gave me amazing opportunities which I hope will carry me forwards with my activism and campaigning. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and all it has given me and I can’t wait to get back to campaigning!”
Grace McMeekin, 20, Clitheroe, Lancashire
“I particularly enjoyed the Q&A session with German Green MEPs, Michael Bloss and Damien Boeselager who were able to explain the goals and objectives of the European Greens in tackling the climate crisis.
“Equally inspiring was talking to Green MEPs from the UK, Gina Dowding, Alexandra Philips, Ellie Chowns, Magid Magid and Scott Ainslie who have proved that anyone can make a difference by putting themselves forward and standing in elections.
“I was in awe of the wonderful institution that is the European Parliament and saddened by the thought that we may soon not be a part of it. I could not have been more reassured that all of our nations are stronger when we stand together and collaborate for a more positive future for everyone.
“Yet I will come away with hope after meeting a group of incredibly inspiring young people who are completely dedicated to fighting for the future of all life on earth.”
Isobel Deady, 16, Chorley
“I found the trip really informative, and it was great to see how the European Parliament works, that even people of completely opposing political opinion must find some common ground and compromise. Also through talking to youth activists in Belgium, we gained new ideas of how to get more young people involved in the fight for our futures.
The trip also made us realise how much power we hold as young people, People’s votes and strikes/marches have helped hugely in bringing the issue to the front of people’s minds and so making it a priority in the parliament. From the trip we gained the motivation to make our voice louder and fiercer, and really push for fast, effective action against climate change.”
Lily Mills, 17, Lancaster
“Chatting and hanging out with young activists from Brussels was really fun, it was interesting to hear about how they do things differently to us, it gave me a great feeling about how incredibly wide this movement really us. Many more of them turn out to strikes, it seems easier for young people in Belgium to strike than it does for us in England. We need to enable people my age to express their views on climate and other important issues so that our ideas and priorities influence the major changes that are necessary.”
Millie Prosser, 27, Lancaster
“Brussels was an inspiring political experience where over half of the MEP’s we spoke to, all part of the Greens/European Federation Alliance group, were also activists. The message from them was clear: that our efforts protesting with recent youth climate strikes give them political leverage to forward the climate agenda. We were informed that the recent EU elections were named the climate elections and that the climate change issue has shot up the agenda in the European Parliament.”
Corporate Europe Observatory
I had a very interesting talk and tour by the Corporate Europe Observatory in Brussels this week. They focus on watching the lobbyists who work here in Brussels and there’s a lot of them – more than 25,000! The aim of lobbyists is essentially to undermine the regulations and legislation the European Parliament puts forward and it’s deeply concerning that if they don’t get away with it in Europe with Parliamentarians, they go back to national governments and put pressure on them! This is so important in terms of democracy and giving power back to the people; this is something I really want to explore more in the coming months.
When in Manchester a couple of weeks ago (March for Change), I gave an impromptu speech at the rally for Kashmir there. Like many, I am astounded at the assault on human rights and the plight of the people of Kashmir. This week in Brussels, the Green MEPs have written a letter to Dominic Raab, on the tensions in Kashmir and the UK government’s obligation to be a strong voice in demanding a human rights abuse allegation investigation, as requested by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This is an issue that we just can’t let slip from the news.
Back in the North West
Lovely to get back to the region and thank you for the warm welcome to the Liverpool Green Party – it was great to meet up with fellow Greens for a local party meeting and catch up with the important campaigns here. Although I couldn’t get to Manchester this time, I did send my thoughts to those attending the Great Pension Robbery rally there. An important event for all women who are suffering the massive injustice of not receiving pensions.
I sent the following:
“I am really sorry that I cannot be with you in person today. This is an important rally for the women who were born in the 1950s and so unfairly lost out on their pensions through the 1995 and 2011 Pensions Act. The dilemma of our current political situation is that so many issues are not being addressed. But I feel passionately about the injustice and hardship you are experiencing through this legislation.
I pledge to be a voice for you at a time when this current government is not listening to your plight; a government that does not have the time or inclination to listen to the reality of your experience. Just last week, Chancellor Sajid Javid published his spending review and has not mentioned this important issue at all.
Pension poverty overall, is on the rise again. Austerity politics and our failing welfare state disadvantage the most vulnerable and poorest in our society. Why do women have to bear the brunt of this?
- By 2020, 86% of the burden of austerity will have fallen disproportionately on women.
- For women, there is a 40% gender pension gap.
- British basic pensions are in any case particularly low and fewer women than men have a private pension.
- It is often humiliating to ask for income – or means-tested additional benefits.
Although Job Seekers Allowance and Universal Credit applications have generally fallen over the past years, there has been an increase of about 115% amongst women who are over 60 and a shocking increase of 413% of those women who are claiming Job Seekers Allowance.
It is often claimed that pensioners prosper, and the young suffer.
- Poverty amongst pensioners with below-average income rose from 13% in 2011-12 to 16% in 2017-18. This year, one in six pensioners lives in poverty
- The proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty has the largest increase in among western European countries. It went from less than % in the 80s to around 5% this year.
- With a lack of affordable housing and rent hikes, pensioners who are renting are affected disproportionally.
It is not those pensioners that make it hard for young people to get a decent paying job, that threaten the climate or fail to build council homes.
This is all bad enough.
But you have been hit particularly hard.
- In most cases, you were not informed within any reasonable time frame or not at all about the pension age changes that affected you, robbing you of the ability to make alternative plans. You may even have accepted early retirement or redundancy, not knowing how it would impact you.
- You now have to secure unstable work in an employment climate that discriminate against older, especially female people.
- You may have to seek that work although you are caring for your elderly or ill parents or you may be ill yourself.
- You may have to rely on your partners or family to survive until you are eligible for your pension or on other quickly dwindling resources. You may even have lost your property.
- And often your retirement plans with your loved ones have to be postponed or abandoned.
With this, you have been robbed of more than money, you are being robbed of your health and mental wellbeing. Your plight is a loss for society. Instead of being with your family and grandchildren, following your passions or contributing with your wealth of experience to the third sector, you are forced to struggle.
It does not have to be like this.
It is not a question of the adjustment of the pension age to that of men – that is wrong. But the issue is, that the rise in women’s pension age has been too rapid and that it has happened without sufficient notice. That must be addressed.
Many other European countries are re-thinking their approach and even re-considering lowering the pension age. The UK is implementing the most severe changes and should follow rational thinking as seen with our European neighbours.
Caroline Lucas, our Green MP, co-signed with 187 MPs, an Early Day Motion this year, to fight for the 3.8 million women who are affected.
This October, our Autumn conference will decide on supporting all involved campaign groups and ask the government to step in and stop women of your generation having to live in unjustified hardship.
The Green Party supports the idea of Universal Basic Income, which would:
- end poverty
- discourage low wages
- support unpaid care workers and
- eliminate the stigma of having to apply for welfare benefits
Should that policy come to pass, I will suggest that the women born in the 50s are the first to receive it.
You, women and men, are all here because you are asking for justice in this matter. I am with you in spirit today and all the way in our ongoing fight.
Meanwhile this week…
For the moment, Scottish courts have found PM Johnson’s suspending of Parliament to be illegal. The key question now is about whether he actually lied to the Queen. The ruling has been challenged and will be in the Supreme Court next week where it will be for them to decide this; while the public look on in absolute astonishment that this is what our politics has become.
There is still a complete lack of clarity about even a timescale for democratic events that are unfolding and any opportunity for normal processes to proceed, has been hijacked and thwarted.
Where hope lies:
The youth of today!! I witnessed the energy, lack of cynicism, willingness to learn and challenges of our group and it raises my expectations for the future – as it will be in their hands. This Friday, the Climate Strikes will take place across the world – with students and workers walking out of schools and businesses and taking to the streets to demand action on climate; there WILL be an action near you so please try to make it. A member of my team noted the changing tide:
“My daughter wrote a letter about the Climate Strike earlier this year, to her headteacher who didn’t even reply. This term however, the teachers have got together and are helping the children create a climate focus group in school, and want my daughter to lead it. They’ve started already. They are also approving climate strikes as authorised absences. They’re also teaching fracking in geography. Big improvements.”
*On Friday I will be at the #ClimateStrike in Lancaster, please do come or attend a strike where you are. You can enter your postcode and find one through this link.