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Voice from the Back

Unnatural causes
In Ethiopia, people suffer from the natural disaster of drought. But Oxfam also works with poor people to help them combat a disaster more destructive than any natural calamity: poverty. Take Bangladesh: the world was shocked by the catastrophic cyclone and floods in 1991, in which 140,000 died. Yet the same number of children are killed by poverty in Bangladesh every 2 months. The main killers are common diseases, often spread by dirty water, like diarrhoea. Worldwide, a mother watches her child die of diarrhoea every 8 seconds. Oxfam begging letter, June.

At the class divide
There is, for example, a house price boom going on—at least for those living in the advantaged parts of the country. The half a million pound house is becoming a commonplace and a million pounds is no longer rare; more extraordinarily still, prices are rising by 20 or 30 percent a year. To buy such a house demands a mortgage of a quarter a million or more, and that in turn, even with today's interest rates, implies monthly repayments of around £2,000 a month. But for a growing number of households, where both partners work, such repayments can be paid relatively easily. It may mean both are working for 50 or 60 hours a week and the parenting of their children, even the caring of their pets, is being subcontracted; but the mortgage can be paid. Observer, 6 June.

They own them all
Eighty-two percent of corporate stock in America is held by the wealthiest 10 percent of families. But over half those shares, the controlling stake, is owned by the richest one percent alone. The membership of this One Per Cent Club has expertly diversified portfolios and trusts. They own GM and Ford, Monsanto and its "competitor" Dow Chemical. Ergo, they don't care which horse wins the race because they own the whole race track. So what does the Wealthy One Per Cent want? Answer: more wealth. Where will they get it? As with a tube of toothpaste, they are squeezing from the bottom. Observer, 6 June.

Trust
The Prime Minister yesterday urged employers and unions to end the "often meaningless ritual" of the annual pay round when he launched a £5 million fund to promote partnership at work. He made the call as part of the Government's plan to reduce the causes of regular conflict between employers and the unions in a speech at a Trades Union Congress conference in London aimed at promoting partnership. Mr Blair said the unions must resist reverting to the "bad old days" of the "them and us" climate of the 1970s and work at being more committed to business. The £5 million will be used to train managers and trade union officials to work together more effectively and to build trust between unions and businesses. Metro, 25 May.

Exploitation must increase
Businesses in many European countries are outraged at a rising tide of social legislation and working directives, which they claim stifle enterprise and competitiveness, threaten jobs and cost billions. They support the view held by many UK businesses that without more flexibility, enterprises will go bust. At the head of their hate list are the Social Chapter, which includes trade union rights, the Working Time Directive limiting employees' working hours, and a mass of environmental regulations. Financial Mail on Sunday, 6 June.

Better than opium?
Our national lottery's licence is up for grabs and the only question is: will Camelot win it again? The lottery's sole problem is that we in Britain are currently spending only £100m a week on it, so they are launching a new game next week to tempt us to blow a little more . . . Last year one independent, British, world-class academic revealed that more than 100,000 children in their early teens were seriously hooked on gambling. Those findings, based on publicly-funded research, were so worrying that the government tried to suppress them. Guardian, 3 June.

What starvation?
Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler is expected to propose doubling the proportion of arable land to be left uncultivated by farmers next year. Experts predict that he will propose a set-aside rate of at least 10 percent in the 1999 season. Commission officials say the current level of 5 percent has failed to prevent soaring cereal production, causing a sharp drop in EU market prices and forcing the institution to buy in large amounts of surplus wheat and barley at the guaranteed price of 119 ecu per tonne. "Surplus stocks stand at about 15 million tonnes at present. We estimate that if this rate of 5 percent is carried over into next year, they will rise to 25 million tonne," said one official. European Voice, 4/10 June.