Scroll down the page for the Live blogs of the talks.

Videos about Government & policy

Live blogs about Government & policy

Sara Hyde talk

SaraHyde_portraitSara also has a background in theatre. She starts with, acts rather than tells, the story of Katie: a beautiful small baby, neglected; moved into foster care, moved again and again; at 12 babysits and is raped by the father, and then all his friends; she runs away, and gets involved in crack and crime; at 18 she stabs an old woman; she’s had juvenile sentences, now it’s adult prison.

What does justice look like for Katie? How many people do we know that have been to prison? Why is it that the answer is lots for some and none for others?

Who ends up in our prisons? Other human beings. Sara is sharing statistics of the men and women behind bars. For example, how many have been abused or suffered depression, or attempted suicide.

Katie was not a sick fish as a baby, but grew up in unhealthy water. We need to change the water.

In recent years, the ratio of prison officers to prisoners has fallen. There is overcrowding. We are moving towards the US model of commercialised prison, but we can’t afford it. The National Audit Office says that there is no correlation between crime rates and numbers in prison.

Is there another way? 97% of people in prison say they desire not to reoffend, but 58% do. At HMP Grendon, a therapeutic prison, the rate is closer to 20%. This is due to focusing on relationships, giving time and place for human beings to relate to other human beings, and having a relational approach to justice.

We do still need prisons, especially for perpetrators of violent crimes. But what does relational justice look like? The principles include: a person’s acts may be bad, but they are still human; we all mess up; we need space to practise life; a prisoner may become a tax-paying citizen in the future; people are not commodities; prison is not an industry; what if people who sent others to prison were accountable for them; inequality means people don’t get equal chances.

On the ground, this means: reduce the prison population; use community sentences; reduce prison sizes; high staff ratios; use restorative justice, de-othering the victim and de-monstering the perpetrator; train and pay officers properly.

It is more effective to reduce crime by reducing drug use and providing mental health care than to put people in prison. HMP Grendon costs more per prisoner, but the lower reoffending rates means that it saves overall.

So where might Katie be now? What can we do, human to human, before we find Katie in a prison cell?

Jenny Sealey talk

JennySealey_portraitJenny became deaf (with speech) at aged 7. Her mother said she could do whatever she wanted. Her careers officer said she could become a librarian! With Graeae, she works with some extraordinary deaf and disabled artists. She is showing a video of some of them as she continues to speak.

Disabled people are dependent on Access to Work and the Independent Living Fund. The first is one of the government’s best kept secrets. It helps disabled people into the workforce, so they can fulfil roles with equality, and come off benefits and pay taxes. The latter does what it says. But in 2012 Esther McVey announced out of the blue that it will be closed and passed to local authorities in June 2015. The pot is £23m, and per person the cost of £346 compares very favourably with the cost of care in residential homes [several thousand]. Jenny argues the closure breaches human rights.

When working on the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, Stephen Hawking said don’t look at your toes, look at the stars. He and many other deaf and disabled people (Beethoven, Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo) have contributed enormously to civilisation. They needed and received support. Jenny is running through a list of people who are struggling with accessing government support so they can fulfil their potential.

For example, a graduate in business studies had Access to Work for 6 hours a day, then when moved to another job was only given 3 hours a week, and had to leave the job… which also means that two signers lost their employment too.

Disability does not occur because someone has done something wrong. Yet disabled people are vilified and in some countries treated as beggars. It amazes some that there are disabled people on the stage. Many decisions seem to be the result of lack of empathy and understanding. For example, how do blind people use tablets with smooth screens? The Paralympics were glorious. Following it, Channel 4 asked Jenny to put some of her people forward to Undateables, which she found sickening.

So Jenny asks us to familiarise ourselves with Access to Work, and with the issues, and help disabled people in their efforts to give their great contributions to society.

Celia McKeon talk

CeliaMcKeon_portraitCelia is asking us to clench our fists, tighter. How would it feel to clench it for ever? Now open your hand, stretch it out, and notice how that feels.

It wasn’t until she was 16 that Celia realised how important security could be. She was in a camp in Europe, and became friends with a Croatian girl. During the Balkan conflict, she wrote to her friend, but eventually lost contact. She was horrified that her friend was exposed to such experiences and insecurities. So she got involved in peace-building.

Time and again, she has learnt that peace and security are built by talking about the root causes, with an out-stretched hand and not a clenched fist.

In places like the UK not affected by such conflict, we can still ask what security means. Does it mean defence? Pictures of tanks and barbed-wire fences?

Sources of insecurity include patriarchy, militarised violence, climate change, concentration of power, financial insecurity. All cross boundaries, and require collective global solutions. So the 20th century requires us to build security with an out-stretched hand. Yet the global spend on defence is over $4 trillion dollars. There is something wrong.

Iraq and Afghanistan have been dubbed ‘strategic’ failures for Western governments. We are deploying drones, supposedly precision strikes, but more than 100 people have been killed when trying to kill one leader. Which has led to even higher resentment. Everyone has a clenched fist.

We are told there are no other options. But there are, from a different starting point, relying on building relationships, confronting inequalities, and recognising humanity. There are seven elements required, including: access to work, access to food, health protection, trust in communities, political participation.

Celia is sharing stories of how this has worked in practice: in the Philippines via a touring government commission; in northern Mali via many community organisers; in Northern Ireland via a touring citizens’ inquiry.

It is not a magic solution, but conversations and the willingness to listen are powerful. In the UK’s ‘war on terror’, we need the courage not to respond to a clenched fist with another clenched fist. How instead can we build basic security for everyone? Power – the UK elite are tied into global military sales – isn’t working. Let’s consider being vulnerable instead, where most break-throughs have come. The most transformative moments in peace processes around the world are when the risk is taken to build relationships… unclenching the fist and offering an out-stretched hand.

Celia later lived in Croatia for a while. War veterans from all sides are being brought together to talk and listen. So ask whether politician’s approaches are building true security, and recognise that we have the choice to harness creativity. In the end, our future is likely to depend on the kind of security we choose to believe in.