With #annushorribilis and #worstyearever becoming increasingly popular hashtags on Twitter, many people are breathing sighs of relief that 2016 is nearly over.
But whether 2016 has been your worst year ever or joyful from start to finish, we think there are things to rejoice over. So here it is, our optimistic offering, the top 10 reasons to celebrate 2016:
1. A change of climate
We were delighted in April that the UK signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, designed to cut carbon emissions worldwide and hence reduce the advancement of climate change. Our joy only increased when the United Kingdom ratified the agreement on 18th November this year. 117 of 197 parties have now ratified the agreement globally.
This year also saw the world’s largest wind farm being approved to be built off the Yorkshire coast; with the capacity to fuel nearly 2 million homes, this shows real progress in the production of green energy by the UK.
Climate change is still happening, but we are moving into action, and a global move towards carbon reduction is definitely worthy of celebration.
2. We’re a step closer to a nuclear-weapon-free world
A major step was taken this year towards the elimination of nuclear weapons, one which seems to have slipped under the mainstream media’s radar. In October, the UN member states voted with an overwhelming majority of 123 states voting in favour of ‘taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations’. The negotiations will take place in 2017 to draw up a treaty which will ban nuclear weapons.
Currently the non-proliferation treaty means that nuclear warheads and missiles are at a stable number, but the current number of weapons is over 15,000, and the treaty does not apply to submarines.
93% of nuclear weapons are owned by Russia and the USA – in the hands of Putin and (from early next year) Trump.Nuclear weapons pose a great threat to mankind, so it is heartening that 2016 has seen progress towards their elimination.
Before you start to type frantically in the comments section, we aren’t referring to the result – we understand that the result of the referendum caused celebration for some and misery for others. Indeed, the referendum on leaving the European Union revealed a deeply divided nation, and its aftermath seems only to have strengthened division.
But this is a positive list, and we see something extremely positive in all of this: a whopping 72.2% of the electorate turned out to vote! The electoral commission reports:
‘A total of 46,500,001 people were registered to vote in the referendum and 33,578,037 votes were cast, representing a turnout of 72.2%. Except for the Scottish Independence Referendum in September 2014, this was the highest turnout since the 1992 UK Parliamentary general election .
There has been much debate about the quality of information used in the Brexit debate, and about the changing discourse of politics in a ‘post-truth’ age. During the debate, we released ‘Think, Pray, Vote’ which provided information, reflections and questions on a wide range of issues related to the referendum. This was also cause for celebration as we heard from Churches using the resource in order to facilitate healthy and factual debate, conversation and reflection.
4. Homelessness Reduction Bill
This is one for our friends at Housing Justice – the bill is now at committee stage having made it through the crucial first and second readings in the House of Commons. The bill would transform the support that homeless people receive. Next is the Committee stage in the House of Commons, look out for this in January, as well as our homelessness bible study which we will be producing in advance of Homeless Sunday on Sunday January 22nd!
5. ‘I, Daniel Blake’
This film by Ken Loach was released in November and deals with an issue we have been campaigning about since Truth and Lies about Poverty in 2013: benefit sanctions.
Alongside the film’s release we saw members of our Churches campaigning for the UK Government to #rethinksanctions with positive impacts – Mhairi Black MP managed to secure time to debate benefit sanctions in a Private Members Bill.
The Church of England also spoke about Benefit Sanctions this year, calling for review of the system. This means that the major UK protestant churches are now united in their call for reviewing the system.
Alongside all of this, 2016 saw the benefit system change so that those with mental health problems were given the same treatment as those with physical health problems; they can now apply for hardship payment immediately after being sanctioned.Having highlighted this in our Rethink Sanctions report, this is a small but significant victory.
6. Steps forward in representation and diversity
This year has seen progress in terms of representation of women in top political positions. As of the end of 2016, the Prime Minister and First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland are all women.
It is also notable that 2016 saw Sadiq Khan elected Mayor of London- as a Muslim of Pakistani descent, he represents both a religious and an ethnic minority.
This increase in diversity and representation provides successful and influential role models for those who are traditionally under-represented in politics.This is fantastic headway for those who look for celebration of diversity and equality!
7. Three cheers for Lord Dubs
Lord Alf Dubs amended the Immigration Act 2016, allowing unaccompanied minors from other countries in Europe to be resettled in the UK. It reads:
‘The Secretary of State must, as soon as possible after the passing of this Act, make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe.’
In October we blogged about the importance of remembering that all children are precious, it is good that the Government has taken steps to offer safety in the United Kingdom for those who are most vulnerable.
In welcome addition to this, 4,162 Syrian refugees were granted humanitarian resettlement in the UK in the year to September. Although the Home Office limits the numbers allowed, this is still 4,162 lives transformed, and the communities which are receiving them are themselves changing and growing because of their presence.
8. Child poverty measurements in place
In January of 2016 the House of Lords debated the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which included the proposal to stop reporting on child poverty in the UK and to scrap the Child Poverty Act. The ‘Now you see them’ campaign reported that this would work as a vanishing act, causing 3.7 million children living in poverty to disappear.
The celebration comes in that the House of Lords overturned the bill, which was then amended to include a statutory duty not only to measure but also to publish child poverty figures.
9. A Very British Nativity
If you’ve missed #averybritishnativity then you must have been hiding under a rock this month. The result of our work on the UK asylum system, the two-minute film asks what sort of welcome Mary and Joseph would they receive if came to the UK seeking refuge this Christmas.
The video has been a roaring success with three thousand shares on Facebook, over 170,000 views across our social media platforms and coverage from a variety of churches and charities working with and for asylum seekers. Look out for more work on asylum seekers and refugees in 2017.
10. It is nearly over…
That’s right, despite all the reasons to celebrate, we are still looking forward to entering 2017.
From all of us at the Joint Public Issues Team, we wish you a very
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!