One of the things that come out of war are stories, and let’s face it, none of these stories are ever fairy tales. Today, I want to tell you a brief story about a friend of mine named Steven.
Now, I grew up in Newport South Wales, a place that is not known for many thing. It was the place that the Chartists movement began, although few people seem to remember that these days, and since then through many an injustice inflicted upon it, it is a place known for poverty.
I remember going to “careers fairs” as a 15 year old, and what always struck me was the volume of military stalls that were there. Placed there to recruit young people into the mantra that the army, navy, marines was a career for them, and the best option for their futures.
Many if my friends took up this offer, and while on the way to my GCSE exams I bumped into my friend Steven. I asked him how he did in his English exam, he said he thought he failed because he hadn’t studied, then I asked if he wanted to walk to the maths exam. No he said…there’s no point doing my GCSE’s really because I have already been accepted into the army.
So why had Steven given up his education in the name of the military? He gave some very good answers. He had a guaranteed job with a career route, training of skills on topics that he was interested in, a secure salary, financial support for him to buy a home, a community to live in that would support his family should he have one and the opportunity for international travel. Now you can’t argue with that. By having a career in the military he would be given support to acheive his goals in life, to move on from our estate to bigger and better things.
This is great….really it is….but shouldn’t we all have this opportunity, and not have to risk our lives to have the support from our government to achieve these basic dreams? have training into topics that interest us without killing innocent Iraqis? or get support in buying our first homes by being tools into larger government spending on bombs and nuclear weapons.
I share the same vision as the Green Party, that the government should be supporting all citizens and cutting military spending.
We need to be ensuring that schools have more freedom to frame the curriculum around the needs and interests of the young people in the school, and that there should be free lifelong education for everyone so that we can get training and develop skills in the areas and topics that we are interested in, that we all deserve the support we need to ensure we are able to have a roof over our heads, that we need support for our families from our communities, an NHS that is based on it’s original principles of health care for all and finally that we need to have a secure income so that we can support ourselves through a citizens income. To do this for everyone would create a just society, and to achieve this we need to invest in this dream.
The UK has the fourth highest military spending in the world, behind only the USA, China and Russia. We spend 38.4 billion pounds a year on our war machine. That could pay the Work and Pensions budget 5 times over, or alternatively, the entire budgets of the departments of Work and Pensions; Transport; Energy and Climate Change; Environment; Food and Rural Affairs; Culture Media and Sport; International Development; and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – put together.
Of course if our government spending is redirected to these institutions then people like Steven, his colleagues and the workers who manufacture weapons will be out of a job. This will hit our already oversubscribed job market with more unemployed individuals than we have seen as a result of austerity alone.
If creating jobs through military spending is our goal it is spectacularly inefficient. The Campaign Against Climate Change trade union group, working with the CWU, PCS, TSSA and UCU unions calculated that 1 million green jobs could be created at a net cost of £18bn per year. So our war budget could support somewhere in excess of two million jobs, while creating world-class mass transit, renewable energy, and sustainable homes into the bargain.
In addition, we need to stop the £400m a year of subsidies that British taxpayers currently give to subsidies arms exports. Where could our investments go if we subsidised something else? Investment and subsidy into the arms industry has painted and shaped our world in ways we probably can never fully appreciate. I mean, the reason we have toxic deadly nuclear power is because we discovered that plutonium generated power as a coincidence while researching it for the creation of nuclear weapons to fundamentally kill thousands upon thousands of people. What would have happened if that money had been invested in something that would have actually benefited humanity, such as medicine….what could be have discovered then?
Thinking about Steven, I wonder what the future holds for him once he leaves the army. As I typed Veterans and into Google to top search results were, Veterans and post traumatic stress, veterans and homelessness, veterans and mental health……popular searches alone paint a pretty bleak picture.
Figures released in 2010 stated that 24,000 people leave the armed forces each year, it’s feared that as many as 1,400 of these end up homeless, and that 3% of prisoner are ex-army, 4% reported probable post-traumatic stress disorder, 19.7% reported other common mental disorders, 13% reported alcohol misuse and more British soldiers and veterans took their own lives in 2012 than died fighting in Afghanistan. Interestingly, it has also been reported that 45% of veterans end up claiming benefits
War breaks people, and it’s the welfare system (and charity) that’s expected to pick up the pieces. Through a lack of investment in welfare the government also lets down the very people who are at the forefront of their warfare
I blame Steve’s decision to join the army on the fact that he came from a poor community and didn’t see another option. Would he have made this choice if there had been proper investment in welfare, if people had an opportunity to be educated in a way that didn’t allow people to slip through the net because mainstream education didn’t meet their needs, because his family had lived without a guarantee of a roof over their head despite the fact his mother worked. Without investments into warfare he could have lived in a world where this was a reality.
Inequality is bad for everyone, leading to social problems, crime and ill-health. Coincidently,warfare leads to the same issues……quite frankly I no longer want to live in a country where both of these things are an issue