Voice from the Back

The wasteland
Derelict land in England now covers an area equivalent to a city twice the size of Birmingham, according to the country’s most detailed survey of vacant sites and buildings. The so-called national land use Data Base, due to be released shortly, finds that almost 130,000 acres are idle—in theory enough for 2.5 million medium-density homes. Guardian, 20 May.

How are the mighty?
The world’s biggest personal computer maker was thrown into crisis today as two of its top chiefs dramatically quit following a dire profits warning and plummeting share price . . . Compaq stunned Wall Street two weeks ago by announcing its first-quarter earnings would be half of what analysts expected, leading to a 23 percent tumble in its shares. Evening Mail, 19 April.

Russian capitalism
Fifty-three percent of the Russian people are said to be living below the “official” poverty line; 2 percent own 57 percent of the country’s wealth (land, means of production, etc). the super-rich have, since 1991, managed, largely illegally, to transfer between 200 and 250 billion dollars out of the country. In 1997, 27 percent of the workers’ salaries had not been paid. The economy will contract by 6 percent this year. Source: The Centre of Studies for Living Standards, Moscow.

Capitalism is depressing
“There are more people suffering from depression in Britain today than asthma and diabetes combined. It is a major problem,” said Dr [Chris] Manning. One in four of the population suffered depression at some point in their lives. Four thousand people suffering depression committed suicide each year . . . According to the survey, money worries are the most likely trigger of depression, cited by 88 percent of people, followed closely by death and illness in the family, work worries and marriage or relationship problems. Guardian, 22 April.

Great expectations die again
Former freedom fighters and militant unionists who spent decades struggling to topple South African capitalism have become instant millionaires as the directors of new black-run companies or white-owned firms keen to get a few black faces on the board. Trade unions, the Communist Party and a slew of other organisations that once campaigned for the nationalisation of the gold mines and other “commanding heights” of the economy have joined the scramble to buy into private business. But critics say that black-owned firms treat workers little better than the white companies that financed apartheid . . . When a former Robben Island prisoner, Mzi Khumalo, took over a major company, JCI he was asked whether he would be sympathetic to the unions. “I have spoken to the unions at JCI and made it clear: we are here to run a business. I’m not for any of this brotherhood stuff.” Guardian, 22 April.

Winning the war
The world’s estimated 6m millionaires have shrugged off the effects of last year’s financial turmoil and are getting richer by the day. New research by Merrill Lynch, the investment bank, with Gemini Consulting, a management consultancy, found the wealth held by high net worth individuals with more than $1m of financial assets grew last year by 12 percent to $21,600bn. The World Wealth Report produced by the two firms projects a steady rise to $32,700bn by the end of 2003—a growth rate which is expected to attract more firms into the lucrative market for private banking and wealth management services. Financial Times, 17 May.

Class war casualties
More than 1m people are killed at work every year—including 12,000 children—and 250m suffer workplace injuries which force them to take time off, according to International Labour Organisation estimates. The worldwide annual workplace death tally of 1.1m outstrips the numbers killed in road accidents, war, violence and Aids and costs 4 percent of the world’s gross domestic product in terms of absence from work, treatment, disability and survivor benefits. Guardian, 28 April.

Losing the war
Our Health Challenge:

  • Thirty percent more men [in the area] die from lung cancer than the national average.
  • Sixty-eight percent more people die from heart attacks.
  • Eleven percent more people die from strokes.
  • We are among the country’s ten worst places for deaths of babies at or just after birth.
  • We have one of the country’s highest teenage conception rates.
  • Thirty percent of households have someone with a long-term illness.

Our Social Challenge:

  • Thirty-five percent of households have no central heating.
  • Twenty-three percent of public housing and 17 percent of private housing are unfit for human habitation.
  • Four percent of privately rented accommodation have no exclusive use of bath/shower or inside toilet.
  • Ninety-five percent of Sandwell people have no qualifications beyond school.
  • Fifty percent more people are unemployed than the national average.

Better Health for Sandwell People.

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