Writing in The Times (£) recently, John Bird, founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue, expressed frustration that
the current welfare debate had been reduced to whether Iain Duncan Smith could
live on £53 per week, he wrote:
“For more than two
decades—ever since I set up The Big Issue so that the homeless could through
their own efforts earn a legal income—I have been arguing that spending more on
benefits makes neither social or financial sense. Yet as society grew wealthier
and healthier, the number of people we parked on benefits grew too, men and
women who have never gone out to work in their lives.
What the poverty
industry has done is corral them into a class outside of mainstream society.
Struggling by on benefits, their children are marginalised at school, creating
the next generation of poor dependents. These children are as bright as the
offspring of the middle-class defenders of the poor, but few make it into
university, whether ancient, red-brick or white tiled."
What marks out these words is the credibility of the author.
John Bird has probably done more practically to alleviate poverty in the UK
than any other individual since General William Booth founded the Salvation
Army. No-one could question John Bird’s compassion for, and commitment to the
poorest in society. Yet his critique of the current state of welfare and of the
‘poverty industry’ is one which needs to receive the widest possible attention.
If someone smart in Downing Street is looking for an
authentic, compassionate advocate for the case for reform then they should give
Mr Bird a call immediately, even better create a new ‘Lord Bird’ to engage in
shaping a welfare system which serves the interests of the poor rather than
hand-wringing liberal elites which have ‘corralled the poor into a class
outside the mainstream of the society’.
I have no idea if Mr Bird would be willing to take on such a
role but in 2010 he did confess to The
Sunday Express (25 October, 2010):
guilty secret is that I’m really a working class Tory. There,
I’ve said it.” And went on “I’d
love to be a liberal because they’re the nice people but it’s really
hard work – I can’t swallow their gullibility and I think their ideas
I find John Bird someone of sound judgement on a whole range
of issues and look forward to hearing more…..