Writing on the wall

Submitted by Janine on 14 May, 2005 - 9:24
  • Tescopoly
  • Health inequality
  • Childhood obesity

TESCOPOLY

The announcement by Tesco boss Terry Leahy that his company made £65 million profit per second last year was greeted with joy by the capitalist community. Declan Curry of the London Stock Exchange was only surprised at how muted the announcement was. “We should not be ashamed of profit,” he said. Tesco says it will “create” 25,000 jobs next year.

Each Tesco worker makes the company an average of £95,000 a year, but most of them are paid the minimum wage, and Tesco has lobbied politicians constantly against even that. Tesco workers are even docked pay for tea breaks, and are “fined” 15 minutes’ pay for being three minutes late for work. A 16-year-old Tesco cashier would have to work for 90 years full-time to earn Terry Leahy’s £3 million annual salary.

Leahy has his fingers deep in the political pie, sitting on four government quangos, and has negotiated what is oddly called a “sweetheart deal” with the impeccably New Labour leadership of the shop workers’ union USDAW.

It’s one of those deals where you agree to your “sweetheart” beating you up regularly. Andre Van Der Merwe, a Tesco worker, was sacked for not being at work after his boss sent him home because he was ill! He told an employment tribunal that he was so exhausted from his night-shift job in the store that he lost three stone in weight and had to spend weekends sleeping.

Much of Tesco’s stock is obtained from sweatshops where pay and conditions are even worse. According to Action Aid, workers in South Africa picking fruit for Tesco work long hours exposed to poisonous pesticides without protection of any kind, for wages so low they can’t afford school uniforms for their children. And it’s not just Tesco that is exploiting workers in poor parts of the world.

Action Aid policy researcher Dominic Eagleton commented that “the growth of supermarkets in developing countries is really undermining the fight against poverty”.

But doesn’t all this give value for money to working-class shoppers trying to feed their families? Well, no, actually. Tesco food is cheap because it’s poor quality, and the cheaper it is, the worse it is. One Covent Garden trader commented that if he tried to sell to restaurants the produce that is bought by supermarkets, all he would get would be derision.

Prolefeed stuffed with organo-phosphates, fat and assorted artificial gunk makes the most profit for companies like Tesco, but buying the raw ingredients from your local grocer is still cheaper in the long run. If Tesco hasn’t closed your local grocer down, that is.

SICKENING

According to new research, “health inequality” is now at its highest level since Victorian times. People living in the poorest inner-city communities live on average 11 years less than people in the wealthiest parts of the country.
It is not difficult to see why this is the case. Quite apart from the diet of crap working-class people are fed on from companies like Tesco, and the number of industrial injuries allowed by inadequate health and safety laws, the Health Service itself is grossly unequal.

Sometimes described as a “postcode lottery”, the government’s private finance schemes for hospitals tend to provide shiny new facilities only in better-off areas. Although the government is spending proportionately more money on health facilities in poorer areas, much of this is going straight into the pockets of private contractors.
Meanwhile, the government continues to allow parasitic private institutions to leech off NHS resources by offering the large sums of money their filthy rich patients have paid them. “Health inequality” will continue to increase as long as people can only get the healthcare they can afford.

Childhood obesity:
when food is a curse

A new government survey, “Obesity among children under 11”, has been published. It shows alarming rates of obesity in children aged 2–10 in England, and that the problem grew worse in the survey years 1995 to 2003.

The report shows:

  • Between 1995 and 2003, the prevalence of obesity rose from 9.9% to 13.7%.
  • The percentage of children who were overweight (including those who were obese) rose from 22.7% to 27.7%.
  • Increases in obesity prevalence were most significant among older children aged 8 to 10, rising from 11.2% to 16.5%.
  • Obesity prevalence among children varied according to region and area type. Obesity levels were lowest in Yorkshire and the Humber (11.4%) and the South East (13.4%) and highest in the North East (18.3%) and London (18.2%) in 2001 and 2002. Obesity was higher among children living in inner city areas.
  • In 2001 and 2002, levels of obesity differed between various socio-demographic groups. Children living within households with the lowest levels of household income had higher rates of obesity than children from households with the highest levels of household income (15.8% compared with 13.3%). Levels of obesity were 5 percentage points higher among children living within the most deprived areas (16.4%) than the least deprived areas (11.2%).

A 2002 survey showed rates of obesity among children aged 11–15 between 15.4% and 22.0% for boys and 15.6% and 19.8% for girls.

The surveys don’t go into the causes for the increasing obesity of our children, but you don’t have to be a genius to work out that it has a lot to do with: lack of facilities for sport and exercise; irresponsible pushing of fattening food at people by manufacturers and advertisers; and, as highlighted recently, the generally poor quality of food available to children in schools.

There are other less quantifiable factors at play, of course. Unhappy people using food and booze as comfort features among them.

The most important: a society with abundant wealth that, paradoxically, isn’t yet socially organised enough to use that wealth for good rather than ill.

This is a society that we have to change so that it has its priorities right.

After all, the most interesting finding here is that poorer children in England now are more likely to be obese than better-off children. A hundred years ago in England, and today in most countries in the world, the very opposite would be true.

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