Archive for the ‘Manchester’ Category

So How Grim is it Up North?

11 November, 2008

In yesterday’s post on ‘Parks for the Poor’ we cited the impact of proximity to greenery – parks, woodland – on life expectancy in the UK. Seems that you are less likely to suffer stress-related illness, irrespective of your income class if you can chill in some nice green space.

Now comes the news that Manchester is near the bottom of the league in environmental sustainability in the index constructed by Forum for the Future – and green space is part of the index. Manchester is down there at No.15 out of 20 – top place goes to Bristol and bottom goes to unloved Hull.

(Here is the list in descending order: Bristol; Brighton and Hove; Plymouth; Newcastle; Cardiff; Edinburgh; Sheffield; Leicester; Nottingham; London; Bradford; Coventry; Sunderland; Leeds; Manchester; Wolverhampton; Glasgow; Birmingham; Liverpool; Hull).

So while Manchester is aiming to achieve low-carbon city status by 2020, according to Forum for the Future,  it seems to have a long way to go. Ditto Liverpool, which starts from behind Manchester. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph announced that “it’s still really grim up north”, with a north-south divide in the index. Yet that isn’t so evident: Newcastle and Sheffield are ahead of London (although the bottom of the index is decidedly northern). Daily Telegraph journalists might have difficulty finding Newcastle on a map.

However, Britain is far, far behind Europe – as a travel any Scandinavian city will demonstrate. Bristol is Britain’s lone entrant (in a field of 35) for the EU’s latest initiative – an annual European Green Capital. The green money is on Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Freiburg and Münster.

So a suggestion to the leaders of Manchester, Liverpool (and Hull): set a target to become European Green Capital in the next decade. Now that the British government is intent on reflating the economy by expanding infrastructure investment, put together an ambitious plan to redevelop your cities with – sustainability at the core.

Check out the research of Simon Guy and others in the School of Environment and Development at Manchester, in particular the Building Sustainable Cities Initiative. Greening cities is the BIG urban agenda. And it’s a poverty issue too – for greenery improves life expectancy, regenerates blighted urban areas, and encourages inward investment (and hence jobs). Win-Win.

And to cheer yourself up go to KLF (Jams) ‘its grim up north’ on YouTube – for some northern merriment in the ceaseless rain.

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Parks for the Poor

11 November, 2008

Yes, having some greenery around you can improve your chances in life. A new study in the Lancet finds that living near parks or woodland improves life expectancy and health, regardless of income class. People living in poorer areas are more likely to die earlier and to suffer more ill-health than the UK average. This income-related inequality in health is less pronounced in populations with greater exposure to green space, according to the study by Richard Mitchell and Frank Popham from the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews (see this BBC report).

Victorian Britain saw great efforts to bring green space to the poor. The first children’s playground was created in a Manchester park in 1859. Many of Britain’s inner city parks went into decline from the mid-twentieth century, and their regeneration began in earnest in the late 1980s. Manchester’s St Michael’s Flags and Angel Meadow Park is an example. The area became notorious in the 19th century for the mass burial of the poor whose families could not afford a proper funeral.

The charity GreenSpace is now working to improve parks and green access in the UK. We also need more efforts in the mega cities of the developing world. On a recent trip to Dhaka I was struck by the lack of accessible greenery. Much appears to have been illegally built over – including one green space now occupied by a truly hideous ‘pleasure park’ which charges for admission.

Green space is also exceptionally important to managing the impact of climate change on urban areas, a theme in Manchester University’s research on sustainable cities (check out John Handley in the School of Environment and Development). So get planting.

The Habitual Food of the Working Man Varies According to his Wages

1 October, 2008

So wrote Friedrich Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England based on his investigations into poverty in Manchester. The link between poverty and bad nutrition still resonates in Britain as Jamie Oliver’s new TV series Jamie’s Ministry of Food shows. Writing in today’s Guardian, Felicity Lawrence cites work by Tim Lobstein of the International Association for the Study of Obesity who has calculated the cost of 100 calories of food energy from different types of food.

“The cheapest way to get your 100 calories is to buy fats, processed starches and sugars. A hundred calories of broccoli costs 51p, but 100 calories of frozen chips only cost 2p. Good-quality sausages that are high in meat but low in fat cost 22p per 100 calories, but “value” fatty ones are only 4p per 100 calories. Poor quality-fish fingers are 12p per 100 calories compared with 29p for ones made with fish fillet that are higher in nutrients. Fresh orange juice costs 38p per 100 calories, while the same dose of energy from sugary orange squash costs 5p”.

The result? Rising obesity, and the associated diseases, among Britain’s poor. This is one reason why life expectancy can differ so radically within just a short distance in Britain, as you go between low-income and higher income areas: by as much as 28 years – yes 28 years – according to WHO.

One of the areas investigated by Engels was ‘Little Ireland‘, populated by those who escaped the Irish famine of the 1840s. The area that was Little Ireland is close to the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Confused about the Financial Crisis? Is Man United Safe?

19 September, 2008

Then go the freakonomics blog. Guest bloggers Doug Diamond and Anil Kashyap provide an excellent guide to what is going on. They also assure us Mancunians that the blessed United is safe:

“… the Federal Reserve made a bridge loan to A.I.G., the largest insurance company in the world; perhaps best known to most of the world as the shirt sponsor of Manchester United soccer club, A.I.G. has assets of over $1 trillion and over 100,000 employees worldwide. The Fed has the option to purchase up to 80 percent of the shares of A.I.G., is replacing A.I.G.’s management, and is nearly wiping out A.I.G.’s existing shareholders. A.I.G. is to be wound down by selling its assets over the next two years. (Don’t worry, Man U will be fine.) The Fed has never asserted its authority to intervene on this scale, in this form, or in a firm so far removed from its own supervisory authority”.

So, that’s ok then. Meanwhile our comment to Ken Rogoff’s piece in yesterday’s FT on the impact of the crisis on the dollar argues that now is the time to invest in better social protection for the 37 million Americans in poverty. Bailing them out can help stabilize the domestic economy, and put a floor under the wobbly property market — and thereby help reduce the need to bail out the financial system. In the meantime, United becomes the first football club to be sponsored by a central bank. Thanks, America’s taxpayers!

Property Refuses to Dance

29 August, 2008

Talking of politics trying to cope with capitalism’s erratic moves (see our last post), UK Chancellor Alistair Darling has come up with another wheeze to try and save Britain’s collapsing property market — now on the floor after a speculative frenzy to the tune of easy credit. Repossessions are dramatically up, not least in Manchester, a city often labeled as the ‘UK’s debt capital’.

First, the Chancellor tried to encourage the banks to clear up their own mess — with a bit of public money. Interesting isn’t it how (private) banking crises always try and turn themselves into (public) fiscal crises? And in both rich and poor countries, too (see Jay Rosengard on East Asia hereWillem Buiter’s blog, and Managing a Bank-Specific crisis: A UK perspective from the Bank of England, no less).

Now, the Chancellor is going to help local authorities and housing associations buy up unsold properties and help people facing repossession with mortgage rescue schemes. We leave it to our readers to figure out whether this is good or bad social policy (it’s good for the banks since the schemes reduce their bad debts: that fiscal connection again). It certainly reflects the political battering the government is taking. Today’s Times — with a nice photo of the ‘Chimney Pot’ regeneration in Salford — sums it all up:

“This latest strategy highlights the increasing influence of Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokesman, a man as deft at articulating the concerns of Middle Britain as he is at the paso doble in the ballroom”.

Meanwhile, the UK property market seems unable to get to its feet. Dance on.

The New Sport: Attack the Homeless

23 February, 2008

Living on the streets is a wretched existence. From London to New York to Calcutta, there are millions of homeless people across the world. Many are children. About 600,000 families and 1.35 million children experience homelessness in America every year (see National Alliance to End Homelessness). The sharp increase in property foreclosures is adding more.

And now to increase their misery comes a new sport: attack the homeless.

The New York Times reports that: “Nationwide, violence against the homeless is soaring, and overwhelmingly the attackers are teenagers and young adults. In Florida the problem is so severe that the National Coalition for the Homeless is setting up speakers bureaus to address a culture that sees attacking the homeless as a sport”. Its the same sad story in England with attacks in Canterbury and Manchester. You can even video and post the results on the Web (go here). Such fun 😦

Human Trafficking — the Dark Side of Globalization

29 January, 2008

The ease with which we can now travel, send money, and communicate has dramatically reduced the costs of shipping human beings — into prostitution and forced labour. Our recent post highlighted Hatti and Maiti Nepal and their work to help those trafficked in Nepal. The plight of Nigerian children trafficked through Manchester is reported here.

Now, Emma Thompson and Sam Roddick have teamed up to highlight this modern slavery at a UN forum which meets in Vienna in February (go to UN.GIFT). They are backing an art installation that dramatically explores globalization’s dark side.

7 cargo containers illustrate what happens to women sold into the global sex trade. Each container — by a different artist — shows the stages of the trafficking process, starting with hope and then descending into fear and despair.

The installation was first shown last September in London’s Trafalgar Square, to much praise (video here). Emma Thompson is Chair of the Helen Bamber Foundation, which helps the victims of human rights violations and raises awareness of human trafficking. (Helen Bamber herself worked to help concentration camp victims).

Last week, 11 Romanian children were taken into care after being seized from alleged child traffickers (who were using them for crime on Britain’s streets, including Manchester, in a modern version of Oliver Twist). Go here for why kids in Romania still get a hard deal.

The choice of containers for the exhibition is inspired. Globalization would not have been possible without the container. The introduction of this humble steel box from the 1950s onwards allowed a much faster turnaround at ports, thereby dramatically cutting the costs of global trade. Now it is used to smuggle people.

Abandoned containers have been turned into homes by the poor. But now the construction industry is starting to use them to build affordable homes (there is one housing development in London). And a new school in Cape Town is built using containers (go here)

David Beckham — New Goal: Ending Child Poverty

23 January, 2008

Former Manchester United star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham has appealed for the world to get moving on child poverty during a 4 day visit to Sierra Leone — where 27 per cent of children die before they reach five (in a country rebuilding after years of civil war). Dad-of-three Becks can be seen in a YouTube video here, visiting health clinics and feeding centres. “It’s shocking and tragic, especially when the solutions are simple”, he said.

And undernourished mothers produce weak children: with poverty being transmitted across the generations (check out CPRC policy briefs and CHIP).

Becks was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2005. You can see a video of him discussing his role here. He was inspired by UNICEF’s rapid action in dealing with the Asian Tsunami disaster, as well as his involvement with the United for UNICEF programme (under which Manchester United has raised £ 2 million since 1999).

Becks also took time out to kick a ball around with some of the locals (go here). Manchester United has a keen following in West Africa, recently boosted by signing Angolan forward Manucho who joins after the Africa Cup of Nations. Three United Stars — Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra (born in Senegal) — feature in UNICEF AIDS-awareness posters in Sierra Leone (go here).

Meanwhile, Posh and the Spice Girls play Manchester …….

Fitting Britain’s Richest into Manchester City’s Stadium

21 January, 2008

The top 0.1 per cent of the UK’s income distribution — that’s 47,000 people with a pre-tax income of more than £350,000 — would be just enough to fit into Manchester City’s Stadium (at least they could afford a season ticket).

This, and other gems, are contained in ‘High Income Individuals: Racing Away?‘, a new Institute of Fiscal Studies study. The top 0.1 per cent has an average pre-tax income of £780,000 per year (for our American readers, that’s about $1,500,000). The average pre-tax income of all income tax payers is £25,000 per year. The top 10% have seen faster income growth than the population as a whole, and the top 0.1% have experienced the fastest growth of all — globalization is of enormous benefit to the UK’s financial sector (and Premier League football players aren’t doing too badly either).

UK Income inequality is now at its highest level since the 1940s. And, northerners tend to have much lower average incomes than southerners, as Sir Stuart Rose, boss of M&S recently pointed out (story here). So, more sales of champagne in the south than flat caps in the north.

Yet, Britain is still significantly less unequal than the US: our Gini coefficient is 0.35, while the US Gini is 0.46 (the higher the Gini, the more unequal the society). Income inequality started to rise in the 1980s (Tony Atkinson’s WIDER annual lecture explains why). Still, the Guardian’s leader today is right to wonder whether everyone is getting “a fair kick of the ball” (as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, recently stated).

Now, how many of Britain’s richest are playing for United or City? (That’s enough football for now – ed.)

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1

20 January, 2008

The late, great, Ian Dury, had a hit with his song ‘Reasons to be Cheerful‘ back in the 1970s. So, with the start of the new year, and in the spirit of the song, lets list some reasons to be cheerful in the first month of 2008:

1. The One Laptop Per Child is now shipping — over a quarter of a million to Peru alone; it sells at $188, and a new commercial venture aims to get these computers down to $50 (see our recent post).

2. The World Bank’s soft-loan arm (the International Development Association) got replenished late last year — after worries that the Wolfowitz debacle would sink the Bank’s funding, the donors rallied round, and Britain became IDA’s biggest contributor (giving the Americans pause for thought: see ‘Bested by the Brits’ in the NYT here).

3. More Americans started to treat climate change seriously. And the Europeans got their act together, and pressed the US hard at the Bali meeting in December (see a summing-up on the CDG blog here). The Republicans ended their state of denial about climate change, finally catching up with the big shift in public opinion (see The Economist here).

4. Economic growth in the developing world keeps motoring, despite the US buckling under the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The South — or at least the Asian part of it — might be decoupling from the North, for the first time.

5. Remittances from North to South continue to rise. Africans living in the UK send home some $400 million a year to relatives (but African governments need to do more to help these transactions, and the resulting investments).

6. The Micro-finance game just keeps getting bigger. What used to be a minority sport has now gone main stream. Lots of product innovation going on, with micro-insurance now starting to catch up. ASA of Bangladesh comes top in a recent Forbes ranking of Microfinance institutions.

7. The Ghanains are punching above their weight in the world of diplomacy. Ghana’s President John Kufuor (also chairman of the African Union) and Kofi Annan are trying to bang heads together in Nairobi to resolve the elections crisis — in the pleasant but firm way only Ghanains can.

8. Iain Duncan Smith, ex leader of the Conservatives, gave a barnstorming performance at the Blackpool party conference on the theme of Britain’s ‘broken society’. And he’s highlighted the Manchester of poverty alongside wealth.

9. More young people than ever want to get involved with development. Why? Maybe its all the travelling during those gap years or older siblings burnt out by the corporate world. Check out the BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development) site here. If you are a young economist take a look at the ODI Fellowship scheme.

10. The Web makes it possible to find almost any piece of poverty research you want. For those of us who started out in the days of type-written manuscripts this is still amazing.

er, that’s it…. but I’ll try and think of more, and return with Part 2 soon

Incidentally, Ian Dury was one of UNICEF’s childrens ambassadors in his last days. There’s a great pic of him here with a Zambian boy on one of his Africa trips. He campaigned tirelessly to eradicate polio having been disabled by the disease when a child (relatively common in Britain of the late 194os when he got it).