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Voice From the Back

The cold facts
Britain has seen a sharp increase in poverty, according to a major study that measures how far people on low incomes can afford the basic necessities of life. The report, Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, has shown that the proportion of households regarded as living in poverty rose from 14 to 24 percent between 1983 and 1999 . . . The research found that about 9.5 million people cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated, free from damp or in a decent state of decoration. Eight million people cannot afford one or more essential household goods, such as a refrigerator, a telephone or carpets for the living areas in their homes. Times, 11 September.

A corking night out
A worker's Saturday night out can sometimes turn a bit nasty. You know the sort of thing. Disputes with the waiter about whether you should pay for the extra noodles or boiled rice. But spare a though for the gravity of the situation when one of our masters went for a meal. "The London Restaurateur Gordon Ramsay once had a customer who claimed that a £3,000, 1957 bottle of Petrus was corked. "I don't mind arguing with people, but if you've got a talented sommelier then you know what you're talking about." That wine needed to be left open for 45 minutes, but the customer insisted on drinking it immediately. "He was just trying to create a bit of a scene," says Mr Ramsay. "After half an hour he appreciated the flavours. Had we been weak then, we would have binned a very expensive bottle of wine." Independent on Sunday, 3 September.

Whose world is it, anyway?
Capitalism is turning the world into a giant dustbin. Oceans are being poisoned, the air is being polluted and, according to a recent report from WWF, the global environment network: if the present rate of global warming continues, almost a third of plant and animal habitat will be destroyed by the end of the century. "Global warming means a horrifying future for nature," said Ms Jennifer Morgan, the director of WWF's climate change campaign. "This is a wake-up call to the world's leaders—if they do not act to stop global warming, wildlife around the globe may suffer the consequences. They must give top priority to reducing levels of carbon pollution to prevent a catastrophe that could change the world as we know it." Herald, 31 August.

Good news!
In the long dark days of winter there is always some good news. Here are a couple of news items that should lift the gloom a little:
(1) The Labour Party is £2 million in the red and has lost more than 30,000 members . . . However, the Conservative leader, William Hague, is also facing the prospect of embarrassment when the party's accounts are published: they are expected to show that the Tories managed to raise only £8 million last year, indicating a reluctance by business to make donations. Independent on Sunday, 3 September.
(2) In the past ten years, billed by the churches as a "Decade of Evangelism", church attendance of all denominations has dropped by 22 percent. Between 1989 and 1999, the Roman Catholic Church lost 490,000 worshippers and the Church of England 290,000. Observer, 3 September.

Without comment
Expect a change in the way business stories are covered on the BBC. The director general, Greg Dyke, says one of the things that irritates him most on the news is seeing a reporter say, "So, it's good news for the shareholders, even if not for the rest of us." Dyke wants BBC staff reminded that profit is good for everyone. Independent, 5 September.

Basic instinct
Prehistoric human beings were able to flourish and spread throughout the world because they lived in a state of "primitive communism", a psychologist has claimed. Professor Andrew Whiten, from St Andrew's University told a conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh that our ancestors evolved through a form of co-operation not very different from the ideals of communism. Human beings were able to dominate the world against predators such as big cats and wolves, he said, only by adopting socialist values. All members of the prehistoric tribe were considered equal, he said, and food and clothing was equally shared. Times, 18 August.